Thousands of highly addictive medicines have been stolen from several Queensland hospitals, presumably by the facilities’ own staff. In a recent ABC News article, journalist Allyson Horn brought light to a potential new drug ring in the state. Hospital workers have been stealing supplies of restricted drugs from their employers.
Among the medicines taken were highly potent opiates such as fentanyl, oxycodone, and methadone. It is highly likely that these drugs will be sold on the black market.
What exactly happened? How could these workers manage to steal large amounts of controlled substances from under the employers’ noses? Let’s take a closer look at what may yet be another drug problem brewing in the country.
Missing addictive drugs
Several hospitals across Brisbane’s Metro North and Metro South districts mysteriously lost some of their supplies of addictive drugs.
Documents obtained by ABC News show that the incidents occurred between January and September 2019. Authorities have yet to identify the exact culprits. However, many believe that the hospitals’ own employees may be involved.
Both the Princess Alexandra and Prince Charles Hospitals reportedly lost some of their fentanyl supplies. This is alarming because the government heavily restricts the use of this opioid, which is classified as a Schedule 8 pain relief drug because of its highly addictive effects. It is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. This makes fentanyl a prime commodity for drug dealers on the black market.
Thieves also stole an unknown quantity of the pain medication oxycodone from the Prince Charles Hospital during the same period.
Meanwhile, several Queensland Health employees supposedly took supplies of the non-barbiturate sedative propofol and NovoRapid from a number of hospitals in the region. Doctors prescribe propofol primarily as an anaesthetic medication. Meanwhile, they give NovoRapid, a brand of artificial insulin, to treat patients with diabetes.
The Princess Alexandra Hospital also lost more than 3,000 vials of ephedrine, a drug used to treat asthma, obesity, and low blood pressure.
Brisbane health authorities refused to reveal the disciplinary actions given to the hospital staff involved in the thefts. However, they have referred at least one of the cases to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
A Metro South spokesperson told local media that they’ve launched a detailed investigation into the matter. As a result, they’ve implemented several improvements and control measures to prevent similar incidents. The representative also claimed that the issue is “subject to an ongoing confidential disciplinary process.”
Read more about ABC News’ article on the missing addictive drugs from Queensland hospitals here.
Australia’s growing problem with drug addiction
The issue with the missing medical supplies in Queensland is indicative of the growing drug addiction problem in Australia.
On the surface, it shows the high demand for addictive drugs in the country. But on a deeper level, it also reveals how far people are willing to go to make money off of it. They’re not above stealing medicines even those meant for suffering patients in hospitals.
As bad as the situation may sound, things may already be a lot worse. The events happened in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. With the current overseas travel restrictions, drug syndicates are likely looking to get their drug supplies elsewhere.
The Coronavirus shutdowns have restricted the availability of many illicit drugs from their traditional sources. Times of social stress are often accompanied by an upsurge in illicit drug use, notably opiates and amphetamine-type stimulants.
Australia does not make its own opiates like heroin. However, the country gets most of its supplies from Southeast Asia. The disruption in the availability of certain substances, such as marijuana, will likely force users to switch to other drugs.
High-potency opiates such as fentanyl and oxycodone are clear choices because they have stronger effects compared to heroin. These drugs are also easier to transport in small amounts.
Fentanyl and oxycodone use has been rising in Australia, especially over the last four years. Australians typically used either misappropriated or recycled medical stocks.
If things don’t improve, the drug problem could become a lot worse in years to come.