The Future of Law Enforcement and Rx Drugs

SEPTEMBER 01, 2005
The Future of Law Enforcement and Rx Drugs

It is no secret that America's pharmacists often have difficulty getting law enforcement to investigate and prosecute prescription drug offenders. Virtually every time I give a presentation to a pharmacist group, at least one individual points out the fact that the police in the jurisdiction are unwilling to take the matter seriously.

This understandably frustrates the pharmacist who is trying to do the right thing by discouraging prescription drug seekers from "doctor shopping" and inundating his or her pharmacy with bogus or altered prescriptions. It is a difficult question to answer, and if the police do not take more interest, the pharmacist eventually gives up.

Although prescription drug awareness is at an all-time high, I am concerned that the increased law enforcement involvement in this monumental problem may start to wane considerably in the next year. The need for homeland security is partly to blame, as the federal government pours vast amounts of money into this seemingly bottomless pit. The security of our country is of the utmost importance, but sometimes when you "rob Peter to pay Paul," both suffer.

A large portion of the drug task forces in America are funded through the Byrne Memorial Grants. This year, 2005, is the last year for this funding, as it is placed into what is called the Justice Assistance Grants (JAG). Many administrators, like me, just applied for the calendar year 2006 for funding for drug task forces. The problem is that the JAG grants have 50% or less of what were available funds in years past for drug law enforcement. Currently, JAG grants for drug task forces for the calendar year 2007 have no money slated for these criminal investigations. This means that many drug task forces in the United States will fold, and others will operate with reduced manpower and funds to pursue drug offenders, including upper-level traffickers.

Some of the current drug task forces have a full-or part-time investigator working on prescription drug abuse crimes. Unfortunately, the drug diversion investigator will be the first job to be eliminated during the inevitable cuts. Even though prescription drug abuse outranks all other illicit drug problems except marijuana, administrators will remove this position from their task force if they currently have one.

What this means to the average retail pharmacist is that if there is presently cooperation from local law enforcement, beginning in 2006 that cooperation may weaken and die. This means there may be no response to drug diversion problems, or assistance will occur days later by an investigator who has little interest in or understanding of the prescription drug abuse issue.

What pharmacists can do is use their professional political power. They can make it an issue at local or state pharmacist organizations to lobby with local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and even the politicians that ultimately control their activity. When the local police chief's prescriptions get filled every month, pharmacists can make it a point to gently remind him or her how much diversion investigators mean to them and to the prescription drug abuse problem in their communities.

Pharmacists are consistently thought of as one of the most admired professions by the general public, and with admiration there is often the potential for positive influence. They can use this kind of influence on decision makers in their communities to focus on some of the pressing problems at home—like prescription drug abuse.

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, via the Web site, or by phone at 513-336-0070.

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