Health Care

DEA efforts affect those in hospice, nursing care

WASHINGTON — Heightened efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down on narcotics abuse are producing a troubling side effect by denying some hospice and elderly patients needed pain medication, according to two Senate Democrats and a coalition of pharmacists and geriatric experts.

Tougher enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, which tightly restricts the distribution of pain medicines such as morphine and Percocet, is causing pharmacies to balk and is leading to delays in pain relief for those patients and seniors in long-term care facilities, wrote Sens. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

The lawmakers wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder this month urging that the Obama administration issue new directives to the DEA and support a possible legislative fix for the problem, which has bothered nursing home administrators and geriatric experts for years.

The DEA has sought to prevent drug theft and abuse by staff members in nursing homes, requiring written signatures from doctors and an extra layer of approvals when drugs such as morphine and Percocet are ordered for sick patients.

The law, however, "fails to recognize how prescribing practitioners and the nurses who work for long-term care facilities and hospice programs actually order prescription medications," Kohl and Whitehouse wrote.

Most nursing homes do not have pharmacies and doctors on site, adding to delays for patients who fall ill overnight and in transition from hospitals to long-term care facilities.