Texas medical center to pay $4.5 mln over fentanyl diversion

Drug Enforcement Administration photo of a seized counterfeit hydrocodone tablets in the investigation of a rash of fentanyl overdoses in northern California
A seized counterfeit hydrocodone tablets in the investigation of a rash of fentanyl overdoses in northern California is shown in this Drug Enforcement Administration photo. REUTERS/DEA/Handout
  • Three-year investigation began after two nurses overdosed
  • Hospital agreed to auditor and other mitigation measures

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, one of the largest medical institutions in the state, has agreed to pay $4.5 million to resolve claims that it allowed its staff to divert fentanyl and other controlled drugs into illegal channels, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.

The settlement stems from a three-year investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, Chad Meacham. Under the deal, UTSW will also hire an outside auditor, institute new employee training and install new security cameras.

UTSW said in a statement that it had begun its own investigation before learning of the government's, and adopted enhanced security measures on its own. It said the settlement "acknowledges our failure to comply with regulatory requirements" and that it is "committed to meeting all legal and ethical obligations in every aspect of our operations."The investigation began in December 2018 after two UTSW nurses overdosed on fentanyl and died at the center's Clements University Hospital.

Prosecutors said staff diverted fentanyl and other drugs and that UTSW failed to report theft and loss to the DEA in a timely manner.

Meacham said in a statement that UTSW had "exhibited an almost shocking disregard for its obligations under the Controlled Substance Act."

"In this settlement agreement, we're doing everything in our power to mitigate the threat of opioid diversion by outlining protocols above and beyond what's required by law," he said.

For the government: Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth Coffin and Andrew Robbins of the Northern District of Texas

For the hospital: John Horn of King & Spalding

(Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a response from UTSW.)

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.