The issue of drug diversion — the illegal theft of controlled drugs continues to increase at an alarming rate across the U.S. A complex and multifaceted problem, drug diversion must be addressed before it reaches epic proportions. The current dilemma for healthcare officials is how to implement the right practices across a wide variety of locations for many years to come.

In 2011, approximately 20.6 million Americans over the age of 12 had an addiction to drugs or alcohol, according to the Addiction Center. By 2014, that number had increased to 21.5 million, with 1.9 million involving prescription pain medications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug diversion and prescription drug abuse are becoming an epidemic, accounting for one of the fastest-growing major health problems in the United States. Additionally, experts have indicated that an increase in heroin use is linked to prescription opioid abuse.

In 2010, the federal government reported that it spent $62 billion on prescription drugs, and the presence of drug diversion has taken funds away from Medicare and Medicaid, thus away from taxpayers.

It is estimated that prescription drugs account for approximately 30 percent of the drug problem in the United States. This problem can contribute to the development of addiction and the process of recovery.

Millions of Americans are addicted to prescriptions drugs, which increases the likelihood of drugs being stolen or abused. In most cases, individuals either consume these drugs on their own or sell them to others to achieve a profit. Unfortunately, the diversion of pharmaceutical drugs can yield large profits for traffickers but negative outcomes for abusers.

Another growing trend is the creation of "pill mills," which involve the questionable dispensing of controlled substances by healthcare professionals (i.e.,doctors, pharmacists, etc.) to the general public. There have been instances where some pill mills have been found to engage in illegal dispensing or acquisition of controlled medications, and this also highlights the trends toward abuse.

In an effort to decrease the prevalence and closely monitor the status of these agents, healthcare professionals must serve as the first line of defense. Regardless of the institution or organization, there should be strict protocols in place that enable the ongoing evaluation of drugs through inventory counts and training on the handling of these particular medications.

There should be specific safeguards in place as an effort to reduce the incidence of intentional or unintentional removal of these drugs and measures that are designed to include accountability in the event that diversion does occur. One specific example of a safeguard is the use of automated medication dispensing systems (like Pyxis machines) that record the status of medication in terms of count and the activity of each individual that logged into the machine.

It is only through a continuous and concerted effort that change can be observed. Drugs that are made more secure are less likely to be misused or abused.