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Drug Diversion and Abuse: Treating Celebrity Patients Can Have Pitfalls

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Saturday, December 1, 2007   [ Request Print ]

John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 39-year veteran of law enforcement. Cmdr Burke also is the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. For information, he can be reached by e-mail at , via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.


A person only has to watch the daily television news or entertainment shows to realize that our society is enamored with celebrities. Apparently we find their personal lives very interesting, as we are fed a constant barrage of tidbits of gossip supposedly detailing their every move. Their life and fame are a magnet to many Americans—some wanting to stand in their shoes, and others just wanting to be able to count a celebrity as a friend or acquaintance.

This celebrity can be an actor, singer, comedian, politician, or sports star. He or she does not even have to be of national prominence. The local politician, successful businessperson, or other person of importance in the community may be considered a celebrity.

Over the years, I have seen the celebrity patient creating a problem for some health professionals—both prescribers and dispensers of prescription drugs. Elvis Presley represents probably the most well-known example of extensive abuse of prescription drugs. This was an addiction that likely cost Elvis his life, as he had obtained prescriptions written by a physician whose judgment was undoubtedly clouded by the fact that he had a patient who may have been the most famous person in the world at the time.

The abuse of prescription drugs by celebrities has been further evidenced by the recent tragedies that have surrounded professional wrestling and anabolic steroids, the investigation into the prescribing to Anna Nicole Smith, and the realization several years ago that many Hollywood celebrities are being prescribed medication in false names to conceal the fact they are receiving these drugs for their personal use.

In some of these cases, the prescribing and dispensing of these drugs is undoubtedly for a legitimate purpose, as the celebrity has a legitimate doctor? patient relationship. The problem still exists that these prescriptions are fraudulent, however, and if pharmacists knowingly fill them, they also violate the law and can be subject to prosecution.

Many years ago, one of our local pharmacists, who had an independent pharmacy in the wealthiest part of town, developed relationships with a few wellknown business celebrities who had no problem taking advantage of him and his desire to be close to them. They were receiving controlled substances from their physicians via prescriptions that were written in false names and addresses and were gladly filled by this pharmacist who was attracted to these people and their fame.

Ultimately, the physicians refused to write prescriptions for these people, however, who then brought their dilemma to our pharmacist. The pharmacist began to fill the prescriptions that did not exist by writing out his own documentation into a logbook and dispensing the pills on a regular basis to the local celebrities anyway. When investigators noticed a considerable discrepancy between the prescriptions in his file and the amount of the drugs he was ordering, he eventually admitted to the crimes.

I am in no way indicating that this is a widespread practice to knowingly accept prescriptions in false names, but over the years many examples have arisen of prescribers and dispensers becoming star-struck with national or local celebrities. In some people, this can overcome their otherwise sound judgment and decisionmaking process. Do not allow yourself to be caught in that trap—treat all patients the same, even if they do wear blue suede shoes.

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