by Jahzeiah James
Not many 20-year-olds can say “I’ve worked in a pharmacy for four years.” At my job I have learned a lot about prescription regulations, including the proper procedures for how to handle scheduled drugs. There should be better regulations and thorough doctor examinations when it comes to doctors writing prescriptions, especially for scheduled drugs. In addition, the public needs to know the penalties for committing prescription fraud. Doctors and pharmacists needs to work to together to alert the public to this issue and prevent prescription fraud.
Scheduled drugs are medications that are controlled by the federal government and are under close watch. These drugs include painkillers, such as Hydrocodone and Oxycodone; anti-depressants, such as Xanax and Zoloft; and sleeping pills, like Ambien and Lunesta (“Controlled Drugs”). These are all scheduled drugs. Drug addicts will do anything they can to get them at any cost.
There are four common types of prescription fraud: forging, altering, doctor-hopping, and fraudulently calling in prescriptions (Vassallo). One way, thanks to computers, is anyone can type up a prescription and try passing it off as a doctor’s. Legitimate prescriptions are written on watermarked paper. But, prescription forgers sometimes steal the prescription pads right from a doctor’s office or hospital, scribble what looks like a doctor’s “chicken scratch”, and turn it in to a pharmacy.
I remember there was a customer who was from out of town and brought in a prescription for Vicodin. I could not read the doctor’s name, the patient’s name, nor the instructions; neither pharmacist on duty could decipher it either. Therefore, we asked the gentleman where he got the prescription and who was the doctor that prescribed it. We already knew he was lying, but we played along. He started stammering, could not speak in full sentences and was very fidgety. Finally after going back and forth with this guy we told him if he didn’t give us a straight answer, we would call the police. So he asked for the paper back, hurried out. We should have called the police, but we didn’t, we let him go. That was bad on out part.
Altering a prescription is also a common act. When a patients have legitimate prescriptions from their doctors, they will change either the number of pills they are allotted or change the number of refills (Wartell and La Vigne).
Doctor- and pharmacy-hopping are when a patient goes from doctor to doctor and goes to several pharmacies. They have multiple doctors prescribe them the same or similar drugs. Some patients lie to the doctor’s office and have them call in a prescription at one place. They get it filled and picked up, and then they call the doctors office back and have them call it in somewhere else, saying they were closer to one pharmacy than to another. There was a woman who lived really close to the pharmacy that I worked at and she did exactly that. She was caught going to multiple doctors and going to every pharmacy in town. Eventually, when the authorities caught on, they had her restricted to only go to one pharmacy.
Fraudulently calling prescriptions: this one I witnessed first-hand as well. A woman was calling in her elderly mother’s medications to get them filled and picked up; later we found out that the mother rarely got her medication. The mother would call in trying to figure out what we did with them. We had records and signatures showing that her daughter had picked them up. The mother didn’t want to turn her daughter in to the police, so it was agreed that the daughter would never be allowed to pick up any medication besides her own again. Another calling scam is that some people try to pretend to be the doctor’s office themselves; they either impersonate the doctor, or more commonly the assistant. Any one of these types of fraud can land a person behind bars, plus a rather large fine.
Another problem that many people have not thought about regarding prescription fraud is that now in many cases it’s possible to get scheduled drugs, ordered off the internet. Back in 2006 it was said that approximately 300 websites registered in 44 different countries were giving out these drugs without a written slip from any physician (Anuapam).
When it comes to penalties each state may have specific details that might be different from another, but in general there are penalties for forging a prescription in any way. It can land one anywhere from one to five years in jail, with a fine as high as $5000. Yet it can vary from state to state. Not only can it hurt the patients, but if doctors or pharmacists themselves are caught in the scam, they can end up losing their licenses (Vassallo).
Many people just don’t see how serious the prescription fraud issue is. In 2010, according to N.I.D.A, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the numbers of people who abuse these drugs are astronomically high: for pain relievers approximately 5.1 million, for tranquilizers approximately 2.2 million, for stimulants approximately 1.1 million, for sedatives approximately 0.4 million (“Prescription”).
Doctors should require their medical assistants to take a class or go to a seminar on drug abuse, especially one that focuses on prescription forgery and scams of that nature. Doctors especially need to make sure they give patients thorough examinations and be sure they actually need the number pills they are given. They do not need, say, 50 pills of Vicodin for a small toe injury. People need to use their common sense. Doctors, pharmacists and police all need to work together to put an end to prescription fraud. Communication is key. It makes it harder for the abuser if the doctors and pharmacists are collaborating. When they see the signs they need to tell each other, so that patients can be under close watch.
Anuapam, Jena. “Prescription Medication Abuse and Illegitimate Internet-Based Pharmacies.” Annals of Internal Medicine 155.12 (2011): n.pag. Web. 4 Apr. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22184692>.
“Controlled Drugs.” Texas State Board of Pharmacy. N.p. N.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2012. <http://www.tsbp.state.tx.us/consumer/broch2.htm>.
“Prescription Drug Abuse.” NDIA. N.p., Dec. 2011. Web. 8 Dec. 2012. <http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/prescription-drug-abuse>.
Vassallo, James. “Prescription Drug Fraud.” Suite101. N.p., 2001. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <http://suite101.com/article/prescription-drug-fraud-a210851>.
Wartell, Julie, and Nancy La Vigne. “Prescription Drug Fraud and Misuse.” Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. N.p.. Web. 16 Apr 2013. <http://www.popcenter.org/problems/prescription_fraud/>.