Researchers at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada, have developed a free online tool to help Canadian hospitals address the growing issue of drug diversion, which involves the illegal acquisition or use of prescription medications.

The tool aims to assist hospitals in identifying and mitigating the risks of medication loss or theft within their organisations.

Rather than focusing on individuals who may be responsible for drug diversion, the tool targets areas of vulnerability within the hospital system.

Drug diversion poses serious consequences, compromising patient and staff safety, increasing healthcare costs, and contributing to substance abuse.

North York General Hospital badeau family research chair Trbovich said: “When we started talking to hospitals about it, they were saying, ‘We know it happens, but we don’t have a good way to track how often it happens.’

“Opioids might go missing for example, but they don’t necessarily know what led to it going missing. They are mandated to report to Health Canada when opioids go missing; often they report it back as ‘unexplained loss.’”

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Opioids are the most commonly diverted drugs, and the research team found that reports of opioid losses from Canadian healthcare facilities have been doubling annually since 2015.

The tool conducts a risk assessment by examining how controlled drugs are managed throughout the hospital, including inventory record discrepancies, staff access to controlled areas, and processes related to medication ordering, storage, transfer, and disposal.

This assessment generates a risk score that hospitals can compare with others, and a reference guide with recommendations for addressing weaknesses is provided.

Hospitals can re-evaluate their risk after implementing recommended measures.

The tool has already attracted the participation of numerous hospitals, and the aggregated results will be analysed to provide insights into diversion risks across regions, hospital sizes, and technologies used.

The project received support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.