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Effingham Health System to pay 'nation's largest settlement' for unaccounted opioids

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) - Effingham Health System has agreed to pay a $4.1 million settlement to resolve allegations that the center failed to provide measures to guard against theft and loss of controlled substances.

As a result of that failure, the United States Attorney’s Office says Effingham Health System led to “a significant diversion of opioids” and failed to report the suspected diversion.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office calls this “the nation’s largest settlement of its kind involving allegations of drug diversion at a hospital.”

In 2017, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched an investigation into reports of diversion at the hospital. The DEA found that tens of thousands of oxycodone tablets were unaccounted for and were believed to have been diverted for more than four years.

This, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, is in violation of the hospital’s responsibilities under the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA also determined Effingham Health System did not notify them of the suspected diversion within the time required by federal law.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Effingham Health System has worked cooperatively with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the DEA to finalize a plan to address their handling of controlled substances.

“We appreciate the cooperative nature of the United States Attorney’s Office and Drug Enforcement Agency, for recognizing the efforts put forth since 2016 to improve pharmacy operations," said Fran Baker-Witt, CEO for Effingham Health System in a press release. “We were dismayed to find, through this investigation, vulnerabilities in our prior record keeping and reporting systems.”

Baker-Witt explained that in 2016, the hospital began overhauling pharmacy operations to improve systems and implement best practices.

The hospital will continue to finalize a plan, along with the DEA and DOJ, to include quarterly internal accountability audits and detailed records to track controlled substances.

Effingham Health System says this settlement is "not an admission of liability" but will allow the hospital to avoid extensive legal expenses and costs. The hospital's statement says the ongoing investigation "will not interrupt, or compromise, the care we provide our patients."


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