UPDATE: How hospitals are trying to keep powerful painkillers ou - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: How hospitals are trying to keep powerful painkillers out of the wrong hands

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE:  Channel 3 has learned that the State of Tennessee Board of Nursing has ratified a consent order revoking Heather Hodge’s nursing license.

A wave of prescription drug abuse across the country has hospitals turning to high-tech solutions to track powerful drugs and keep them out of the wrong hands.

At CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, all medication is stored behind a locked door inside an elaborate system. The dispensing machine, called the Pyxis MedStation System, is password protected and has a fingerprint scan.

Chief Nursing Operator Rhonda Poulson says the system tracks every single dose of medication.

“If the order says I can remove one, I can only remove one. I will remove the drawer and if there’s 10, I’ll put nine back in the drawer and lock it,” Poulson told Channel 3.

It’s possible for someone looking for a fix to find ways around the system. It’s called drug diversion, meaning medicine is kept instead of being given to the patient.

The system identifies suspicious activity and any discrepancy is recorded and shows up on surveillance reports.

READ MORE | Former corrections officer arrested a third time for hospital drug thefts

“We do random surveillance. It will show if someone pops up more often as administering more medication than the average user within all of our systems,” said Poulson.

There are also rules for safe drug disposal, including fentanyl patches.

“Now we have to physically cut it up and to be sure it can no longer be applied to another person's skin. We cut it in small pieces and flush it down the drain so you can no longer give it to another person or patient,” said Poulson.

The opioid epidemic is changing how healthcare professionals do their jobs.

“We take it very seriously that we account for all of our narcotics,” said Poulson.

In July, surveillance cameras captured a woman smuggling a highly addictive painkiller inside the Grundy County Courthouse for an inmate to pick up, according to investigators.  

Investigators told Channel 3 the woman placed a fentanyl patch on a door frame and it was meant to be picked up by an inmate who was due in court that day. Investigators later identified the woman as Heather Michelle Hodge, 41, a licensed practical nurse.

READ MORE | UPDATE: Nurse charged for sticking fentanyl patch to courthouse for inmate

Hodge was arrested and admitted to the act, according to authorities.

Tennessee Department of Health records show that Hodge still has a nursing license.

A spokesperson says there’s no law that requires the state to take action just because she’s charged with a crime.

There are requirements, however, for reporting criminal convictions.

According to the state’s website, Hodge’s license expires in March. 

It’ll be up to the Tennessee Board of Nursing to decide if she keeps it.

Hodge is scheduled to be back in court on December 5.

Channel 3 requested information about the number of nurses reported for stealing narcotics but a Tennessee Department of Health spokesperson said those complaints are confidential.  

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