In a survey of 371 hospices, 31% reported at least one case in which drugs were taken from a patient in the past 90 days. The thieves were most often relatives.
Lead researcher John Cagle said it's not clear if those who steal the drugs are addicted, financially struggling, or both, though he assumes that is the case.
"Where medications are being taken from patients, those patients are probably suffering," said Cagle, an associate professor of social work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
He added that the "drug diversion" problem may be bigger than these numbers suggest.
The majority of reported thefts took place in small facilities, and when the patient was receiving in-home hospice care, the researchers found.
The most frequent culprits were the main family caregiver (39%), another relative (38%) or patients (34%), the findings showed.
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