Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

VA Reveals Missing Narcotics at Florida Medical Centers

Apr 24, 2017
Press Release
List Includes Fentanyl – 50 Times Stronger Than Heroin

Buchanan “Troubled” by Report

SARASOTA — Responding to an inquiry from Congressman Vern Buchanan, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs has confirmed that at least five of its Florida facilities reported missing or stolen drugs, including the highly addictive and deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Buchanan’s request for an update stemmed from an Associated Press report on an enormous spike in missing narcotics at federal hospitals around the country.

Buchanan, who asked the VA for specific information about Florida, said he was “troubled” to learn five facilities in the state reported problems in the past year. He called for greater security to protect veterans and the public.

“As Florida confronts a deadly heroin and opioid epidemic, I’m disappointed to learn that some of our VA facilities were impacted by drug theft,” Buchanan said. “The VA must do everything in its power to prevent drug thefts, which put our veterans and communities at risk.”

In a letter sent to Buchanan, the VA’s undersecretary for health, disclosed that five Florida VA facilities were affected by missing drugs: the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center (VAMC) at Bay Pines, the Orlando VAMC, the West Palm Beach VAMC, the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa and the Bruce W. Carter VAMC in Miami.

“These are some of the most deadly and addictive drugs in existence,” Buchanan said. “Those responsible must be held accountable.”

The agency’s letter was a response to a March inquiry from Buchanan about the Florida impact of missing drugs at VA hospitals. He requested information about the impact of drug losses on Florida veterans, and if any of the thefts occurred at facilities in the state.

Buchanan’s questions followed an Associated Press report that drug loss or theft at federal hospitals, 98 percent of which are VA facilities, increased tenfold between 2009 and 2015 nationwide. The VA is the nation’s largest healthcare system, operating more than 1,200 sites of care including hospitals, community-based outpatient clinics and nursing homes.

Perhaps most troubling, however, the VA said “approximately 30 veterans were affected” by the prescription drug losses in Florida, but did not disclose specific information regarding who or how these veterans were impacted.

Additionally, in its response to Buchanan’s request, the VA noted the types and amounts of missing drugs, and the street value. Fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone were among the missing deadly drugs at the five Florida facilities.

The VA was unable to detail or account for the amount of fentanyl that went missing at these Florida facilities. Fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin but 50 times more powerful and a lethal dose can be as small as two or three grains of salt, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Buchanan represents Manatee County, which had the highest number of fentanyl-related deaths in 2015 per capita compared to all Florida’s counties.

“The last thing Manatee County, and Florida, needs is more fentanyl on the street,” Buchanan said. “VA leadership needs to make it crystal clear to its employees they will face serious repercussions for stealing deadly drugs.”

The department told Buchanan that it took “serious disciplinary action” in cases involving missing drugs. According to the VA, an employee of the Miami VA Healthcare Center resigned before being fired. A Bay Pines VA Healthcare System employee received a 14-day suspension for a single instance of the loss of a narcotic.