/publications/issue/2004/2004-05/2004-05-7940

Prescription Drug Abuse Scams ? Part 1

Author: Cmdr John Burke

The diversion of prescription drugs is accomplished in many ways. The ingenuity of those involved, however, never ceases to amaze me when working in this field. Included here are just a few of the more unusual scams that have either been a part of one of our investigations or have been related to me by law enforcement or pharmacy employees.

Obtaining Home Health Records

A woman who was addicted to narcotics applied for a job at the local hospital to work as a clerk in the hospital records section. Her goal was to have access to the personal information of cancer patients who were in home health care or hospice situations at their residences. During work hours, she would review patient records of those individuals prescribed heavy doses of opiates for their pain and decide on her weekly target.

Once she identified who she thought was the ideal patient, she would make sure to go past the residence at least once to check on the surroundings and plan for the actual day she would visit the neighborhood. On the actual day, after work she would drive to the patient's home, park out front, and raise the hood of her car to indicate that she was having problems with her vehicle. She would then knock on the door of the patient and request to use the telephone to call for help. Before her visit was over, she would assist in consoling the patient, manage to use the bathroom, and many times pilfer a variety of prescription pain relievers. Each week she chose a new patient as her target, always using the car-trouble scheme!

Swallowing a Sewing Needle

A group of hospital emergency rooms was recently the target of a prescription drug scam that demonstrates the ingenuity of prescription drug seekers. The diverter was discovered after she presented herself at several different emergency rooms complaining of stomach pain.

She explained to the doctors that she had accidentally swallowed a large sewing needle. She said that it happened when she had the needle in her mouth and her cat surprised her by jumping on her lap. This surprise had caused her to suck in air and swallow the needle!

Emergency room x-rays confirmed the needle lodged in her stomach, and personnel at each facility prescribed for her a few days' worth of controlled substances before her crime was discovered. This scam is a part of a long list of emergency room ruses that occur in this country daily.

Pharmacy Computer Glitch

This scam involved a young woman posing as a local pharmacist calling large physician practices. She explained that the pharmacy computers had gone down, and much of their physician identifier information had been lost. She was calling some of the practices in order to reenter the doctor's names and Drug Enforcement Administration numbers into the database.

In at least 2 practices, the helpful receptionist gladly obliged and provided the information. This information was then used by a male accomplice to provide phony call-in prescriptions to area pharmacies for hydrocodone!

John Burke, director of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 32-year veteran of law enforcement. For information, he can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.