Police in Rhode Island arrested a 48-year-old nurse after she was accused of stealing controlled substances from the nursing home where she was employed. Arrests like this one highlight how nursing home abuse and neglect can easily cross the complicated civil and criminal legal systems.
Nursing Home Nurse Arrested
Royal Middletown Nursing & Rehabilitation Center reported a larceny to police in July, 2019, citing prescription logs showing missing clonazepam. According to administrators who reported the theft to police, the only person who had access to the medication in the time frame it went missing was Tara Bolduc, a newly hired registered nurse.
After working at Middleton nursing and rehabilitation center long enough to learn their prescription drug handling procedures, Bolduc allegedly attempted to manipulate this procedure to steal clonazepam and other drugs. At the beginning and end of every shift, employees conduct counts of prescription medications. According to nursing home records, an employee going off duty at the same date and time as Bolduc was coming on duty signed off on the correct quantity of the drugs.
Bolduc herself failed to sign off on the medication count. She again failed to sign off on the medication quantity when she went off duty 12 hours later, deviating from the standard employee procedure.
When a new employee came on shift immediately thereafter, the medication count indicated 16 clonazepam pills were missing. This employee notified his supervisor. Two days later, the facility fired Bolduc. Police reports also indicate nursing home staff found oxycodone in her desk, apparently belonging to a recently admitted patient.
Police in Middletown, Rhode Island obtained an arrest warrant for Bolduc on two felony charges of larceny of controlled substances. After almost a month, law enforcement located her in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Police made the arrest and took her back to the Middletown Police Department where she was arraigned in district court that day. She was able to post a bond of $5,000 with surety and is awaiting a hearing set in October.
Drug Theft in Nursing Homes: an Unexpected Problem
Of all the forms of nursing home abuse, one that most people may find surprising is drug theft. Residents in long-term care and assisted living facilities usually take multiple prescription medications. Caregivers are responsible for dispensing medication, but sometimes these prescription drugs disappear. The drugs are often due to a habit, or they may find their way onto the black market.
Most often, nursing home employees steal prescription drugs from the people supposedly in their care. These steps are motivated by addiction or by an intent to sell the pills for profit. The drugs most commonly stolen in this manner are oxycodone and fentanyl, both incredibly addictive opioids that are frequently abused.
Though not an opioid, clonazepam is frequently a target for thieves in nursing homes. You might recognize it by its common brand name Klonopin. It is a benzodiazepine, which can give the user a euphoric feeling. Like other benzodiazepines, clonazepam can be very addictive, especially for people who struggle with chronic pain.
There are more than 75,000 emergency room visits every year as a result of illegal or improper usage of clonazepam, and the numbers increase every year.
Benzodiazepines are an invaluable therapeutic agent for patients in nursing homes, but their effectiveness and addiction potential makes this class of drugs very tempting for unscrupulous workers. These workers may want to take advantage of the vulnerable elderly whose medicines they dispense. Clonazepam is officially a controlled substance in the United States.
Problems with Medications in Nursing Homes
Fentanyl is a readily available controlled substance in many nursing homes. It is one of only a few prescription opiates with approval for long-term use. Many nursing home residents struggle with chronic pain, and they turn to fentanyl to manage it.
The drug is a popular one in illicit marketplaces partially because it comes in more forms than any other painkiller. Fentanyl comes in transdermal patches, nasal spray, lozenges, injectable liquid, and more. Most importantly, there is a high demand in the black market because fentanyl is highly addictive.
Oxycodone is another tightly controlled prescription medication that is often a target among thieves. As a Schedule II substance, it is highly regulated, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) monitors xycodone in a particular way because of the impact this drug has on the opiate crisis in America.
Drug Theft is a Violation of Residents’ Rights
No matter what the medication is, theft of any nursing home resident’s medication is illegal and is a violation of their legal rights. For families, it is important to know how this type of theft occurs. Workers steal medications by:
- Pocketing pills left in cups by residents
- Withholding medication from residents
- Replacing pills with placebos
Prescription pills are the property of the person who holds the prescription. Anyone who takes them is stealing. Moreover, doctors prescribe these pills to seniors because they need them. Without their medication, their health could deteriorate or they can languish in pain. Like the facility in Middleton, nursing home administration can also combat drug theft by medication-counting procedures and drug testing.
How Can this Happen?
Despite the valiant efforts of many facilities, drug theft still occurs with alarming frequency. Nursing homes present the perfect conditions that facilitate this practice:
- In nursing homes, especially in larger facilities, medications desirable for the black market, such as pain pills and clonazepam, are available in large quantities.
- Nursing homes hire unqualified workers who do a thankless job for minimum wage. Many thieves report feeling they were only taking what the nursing home owes them.
- Nursing home security measures for controlled substances are generally not as strict as those found in hospitals and pharmacies.
- When the elderly become victims, they are often unable to report it due to dementia or memory concerns.
How Drug Theft Harms Nursing Home Patients
Drug theft in a nursing home is particularly dangerous. First, withholding medication from a nursing home resident is abuse and can cause lasting physical and psychological harm to the victim. If the thief consumes the drugs they stole themselves, the patients are at risk because their caretaker is under the influence of drugs. Stolen drugs can contribute to neglect, and further, to a nursing home resident’s wrongful death.
Get Help after Nursing Home Theft
Nursing home theft is a type of abuse and neglect, and you certainly should not tolerate it. If your loved one is the victim of prescription drug theft, contact Nursing Home Abuse Center. Find out about the rights of nursing home residents, and get the help your loved one deserves.
Call 1-800-516-4783 to speak with Nursing Home Abuse Center, or fill out our online form for more information.