NEARLY 400 doses of sedative drugs – pethidine and morphine – were stolen from the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) last week, a development which has forced patients to source their own.
Both drugs are classified as dangerous and every dose should be signed for by a registered medical practitioner before being administered as continued use can lead to an addiction.
Thieves who broke into the pharmacy in what could be an inside job, also got away with records where practitioners account for use of pethidine.
In a seemingly well-choreographed operation, the thieves first disabled CCTV cameras before breaking in and the theft was discovered on Monday.
They also stole a laptop and a Microsoft tablet from the UBH pharmacy.
Pethidine is a pain-relieving drug which has a feel-good effect. It is used in emergency departments and post-surgery stages of health care.
Side effects include respiratory depression, drowsiness, sedation, mood changes, euphoria, dysphoria, mental clouding, nausea, vomiting and electroencephalographic changes.
Large doses of pethidine may cause excitation and convulsions.
Morphine is a strong painkiller used to treat severe pain, for example after an operation or a serious injury, or pain from cancer or a heart attack.
Side effects include drowsiness, stomach pain and cramps, dry mouth, headache, nervousness, mood changes, small pupils (black circles in the middle of the eyes) and sometimes difficulty urinating or pain when urinating.
Bulawayo police provincial spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube confirmed the incident yesterday and said investigations were in progress.
“I confirm we received a report of theft of an HP monitor and CPU, one laptop and a Microsoft tablet at UBH,” he said. “Some days later the same informant reported that about 370 doses of morphine drugs were stolen. Investigations are in progress.”
UBH chief executive officer Dr Narcisius Dzvanga confirmed the incident and said police were investigating.
A UBH staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity said the suspects destroyed the surveillance cameras before grabbing the stash.
“More than 300 doses of pethidine were stolen from the hospital pharmacy on Monday,” she said. “The hospital cannot function properly without the drug because the drug is the one which is used to condense pain on patients in place of morphine.
“It’s not understandable how thieves could break into the pharmacy and steal without being noticed when it is just adjacent to the hospital. It is clear that it’s an inside job.
“The number of thefts in the hospital are concerning. Last year seven plasma television sets that were mounted at the health facility’s private ward were stolen again.
No one could understand how they managed to do that when there is security manning all entrances and exits.”
The source said there was more to the incidents “which should be unearthed through investigation.”
A local physician Dr Tatenda Simango said pethidine is a dangerous drug that is kept locked in hospitals as its use is regulated by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe.
“So, we monitor it as it has addictive elements and once one gets addicted, they cannot live without it,” he said. “It’s called a dangerous drug hence pethidine is locked away and whoever takes it should sign for it as it is highly monitored.
“It is strongly controlled by the Medicines Control of Zimbabwe. It is very cheap. It’s not more than $5, very affordable but for one to use it they need details of the prescribing practitioner including his phone number and signature.”
Dr Simango said people often abuse pethidine for its feel-good effect although it should not be used continuously.
“People should know that despite the feel-good effect, pethidine does slow down heart rate and can lead to diverse effects if one uses it continuously.”