Have you ever come home from a hectic nursing shift only to realize that you forgot to dispose of leftover medication that you were carrying around in your pocket? Or maybe you discarded leftover medication by flushing it down the toilet or putting it in a sharps bin rather than returning it to the medication dispensing mechanism? Nurses are busy, and improperly wasting medication occurs often. This may be especially true in the upcoming months as the COVID-19 virus overwhelms our medical system. Nevertheless, improper wasting can have dire consequences on your licensure status, including suspension or loss of license.
One of the main problems with not taking the time to appropriately waste medication is that your employer may interpret it as medication diversion. Medication diversion, when a healthcare worker keeps some of a patient’s medication for his personal use, is a huge and costly problem in the healthcare community. In 2017, Intermountain Healthcare in Utah agreed to pay the United States $1 million to resolve allegations that lax controls enabled a former healthcare worker to divert controlled substances for personal use. https://www.justice.gov/usao-ut/pr/settlement-reached-significant-drug-diversion-case. A 2019 article from the Journal of Hospital Medicine stated that system-wide contributors to diversion “are more likely to occur in organizations that fail to adhere to drug-handling practices or to carefully review practices.” https://www.journalofhospitalmedicine.com/jhospmed/article/202732/hospital-medicine/diversion-controlled-drugs-hospitals-scoping-review.
Now, more than ever, it’s hard for nurses and other healthcare providers to find the time to appropriately waste leftover medication, but it is something you have to do. While there may be innocent mistakes, forgetting you have medications in your pocket or throwing them away improperly can be incredibly harmful to your license. Make sure to check your employer’s wasting protocols and adhere to them. It may take a little more time, but it will be worth it!