Republicans on a congressional subcommittee on Friday excoriated the Veterans Administration’s prescribing patterns and oversight of controlled substances during a hearing in Denver.
The subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, highlighted a July review by the Drug Enforcement Administration of the Denver VA Medical Center that found mailroom employees at the Denver VA Medical Center with controlled-substance-related felonies with access to controlled substances. An audit done in conjunction with that review also found 16 of 27 medications reviewed did not balance when comparing receiving, dispensing and destruction records. The review also found VA pharmacy and leadership did not report theft or loss of controlled substances within DEA time requirements and sometimes did not report at all.
Coffman said a recent congressional hearing also included information of VA medical employees who believed they were turning veterans into drug addicts, part of a pattern of what Coffman termed a “prescribe first” mentality.
Ralph Gigliotti, director of the regional Veterans Integrated Service Network 19, defended the VA’s approach.
He testified that in the past five years, eight employees at the Denver VA Medical Center had been disciplined or removed for illegal possession or use of drugs on VA property. He said the mailroom employees were the responsibility of a contractor, and that the contractor, not the VA, had failed to do the proper criminal background checks. He added that an opioid-safety initiative launched by the VA in August 2013 also had paid dividends, driving down the number of VA patients receiving opioids by 22 percent and decreasing overall dosages by 32 percent since that time.
“Metrics indicate the overall trends are moving steadily in the desired direction,” Gigliotti said.
Republicans at the hearing, held in the old Colorado Supreme Court chambers in the state Capitol, continued to raise questions over the VA’s approach, pointing out that a VA pharmacy technician working at the VA hospital in Denver in June 2014 tried to steal a syringe with fentanyl from an operating room and then lied when confronted. That employee remains at the hospital, although working in a different department.
“I mean, where are the boundaries?” an exasperated Coffman asked.
VA officials said the employee had been put under enhanced scrutiny and was able to keep her job, in part, by disclosing wrongdoing by another employee.