The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center will pay a $4.5 million federal fine for failing to properly police access to dangerous opioids, including fentanyl, which killed two nurses who overdosed in 2016 and 2018.
The fine, announced Tuesday by the Dallas division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas, represents the largest settlement involving allegations of drug diversion at a hospital in Texas, and the second-largest in the United States.
The settlement, which also includes a detailed corrective action plan, brings to a close a three-year investigation by federal authorities into UTSW’s handling of controlled substances. In a 20-page settlement agreement, the government and UTSW said they mutually agreed to the deal “to avoid the delay, uncertainty, inconvenience, and expense of litigation.”
For years, UTSW “exhibited an almost shocking disregard for its obligations under the Controlled Substance Act, enabling some employees to steal and abuse prescription narcotics,” said Chad Meacham, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, in a written statement.
The medical center acknowledged in a statement that a review of its practices after the deaths of the two nurses at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital made it “clear that we had not fully complied with our recordkeeping and reporting obligations in dispensing opioid medication in our inpatient facilities as required. … We have implemented improvements to address identified deficiencies and ensure we comply with all relevant regulatory responsibilities.”
UTSW added that it “fully cooperated” with federal prosecutors and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration during the three-year investigation.
UTSW was represented in the settlement negotiations by John A. Horn, a partner with King & Spalding, and a former U.S. Attorney in Atlanta.
The government’s case was headed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Robbins and Kenneth Coffin under oversight by First Assistant Scott Hogan; and DEA agents under the supervision of Eduardo A. Chávez, special agent in charge of the drug agency’s Dallas office.
The federal inquiry into UTSW’s practices was launched after The Dallas Morning News reported in 2018 that nurses Iyisha Keller and Patricia Norman died from overdoses of fentanyl that in all likelihood were intended for patients. The two women, who are not identified by name in the settlement document, were both found dead in bathrooms at Clements University Hospital.
The written statement from UTSW described the deaths of “these two members of our campus community” as “tragic consequences” of the national epidemic of opioid abuse.