Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) Releases Critical Report on Dangerous Medical Injection Practices

Aug 2, 2012 Issues: Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C—Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), Senior Democrat on the Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee, today released a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report examining unsafe injection practices.   Due to what appeared to be a significant rise in healthcare transmission of hepatitis, Congressman Pallone requested the GAO report in September 2011 to help Congress identify gaps in current healthcare practices and improve patient safety while reducing associated costs.

The report found that between 2001 and 2011 there have been preventable, widespread outbreaks of bloodborne pathogens related to unsafe injection practices.  According to the report, unsafe injection practices have resulted in substantial costs for individuals and the health care system, as well as long-term health consequences including liver cirrhosis, liver cancer or even death. 

Though data are limited, the study found that from 2001 to 2011 there were at least 18 outbreaks of viral hepatitis B and C associated with unsafe injection practices such as reusing syringes for multiple patients in ambulatory care settings (ACSs).  In these known outbreaks nearly 100,000 individuals were notified to seek testing of possible exposure to viral hepatitis and HIV, and 358 of them were infected with viral hepatitis.  The GAO asserts in the report that the full extent of the outbreaks may be underestimated due to a lack of adequate reporting and reporting requirements, in addition to reporting lag because many patients are unaware they have been infected.

While it is difficult to estimate the financial costs from these outbreaks, data reported from the Southern Nevada Health Department following the largest known bloodborne pathogen outbreak due to unsafe practices in the U.S. estimate approximately $30,000 in short-term costs alone per infected patient.  The study also estimates that nearly $14 million would be needed to cover testing for potentially exposed individuals.

“The findings in the GAO’s report of unsafe injection practices are alarming and make a clear case that more must be done to identify and control unsafe injection practices.  I was particularly disappointed to learn that in New Jersey, 29 patients of a hematology-oncology clinic were infected with hepatitis B due to the clinic’s mishandling of medication vials and reusing saline bags for multiple patients” said Pallone.  “While steps have been taken by HHS to improve unsafe injection practices, the report sheds light on a problem that does not receive adequate attention and highlights that we need more action to prevent these dangerous outbreaks.”

You can download the full report below.

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