Medication Theft in Facilities: How Should Facilities Respond?

Medication theft is a serious problem in facilities. It can occur for a variety of reasons, including employee substance use disorder (SUD), financial gain, and personal/family use. Medication theft can have a negative impact on patient care, hospital finances, and public safety.

How should facilities respond?

The best way for facilities to respond to medication theft is to have a comprehensive mitigation and detection program in place. This program should include the following elements:

  • Employee education and training: facilities should educate all employees about the policies and procedures in place surrounding medication diversion.
  • Secured medication storage: facilities should store all medications in secure locations with limited access.
  • Electronic medication tracking systems: facilities should use electronic medication tracking systems to track the movement of all medications throughout the facility.
  • Regular audits: facilities should conduct regular audits of medication inventory to identify any discrepancies. This typically includes audits for controlled substances and high-dollar medications since it is not feasible to audit all medications. 
If it does occur, facilities should take the following steps:
  • Investigate the incident: facilities should investigate all medication theft incidents to identify the responsible party and the factors that contributed to the theft.
  • Take disciplinary action: facilities should take disciplinary action against any employees found to be responsible for medication theft, up to and including termination of employment. 
  • Report the incident to the authorities: facilities should report medication theft incidents to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
Should the motivation for the theft impact how the hospital responds?

Whether or not the motivation for medication theft should impact how the hospital responds is a complex question. There are several factors to consider, including:

  • The severity of the theft. Stealing a single dose of a controlled substance for personal use is different from stealing a large quantity of medication to sell on the black market. Stealing a single dose for personal use is different from regularly occurring diversion.
  • The impact on patient care. If a patient isn’t receiving the medication they need, this is a serious matter as patient safety has been impacted.
  • The employee’s history. If the employee has a history of medication theft or other disciplinary problems, this may suggest that they are a risk to the hospital and its patients.
  • The employee’s motivation. If the employee stole medication because they have a SUD, this may indicate that they need help and support.

In general, facilities should take all medication theft very seriously, regardless of the employee’s motivation. However, it is important to consider all of the factors involved before deciding how to respond.


Diversion is a serious problem in facilities.  Policies should be clear on how thefts are handled and these policies may take dollar value and other factors surrounding the theft into consideration. There are steps that facilities can take to mitigate and detect medication theft, and to respond appropriately when it does occur. By taking these steps, facilities protect patients, staff, the community, and their bottom line.

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Terri Vidals
Terri Vidals

Terri has been a pharmacist for over 30 years and is a drug diversion mitigation and monitoring subject matter expert. Her years of experience in various roles within hospital pharmacy have given her real-world insight into risk, compliance, and regulatory requirements, as well as best practices for medication and patient safety.

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