America's Pharmacists: Doing the Right Thing

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When pharmacists collaborate with law enforcement, the challenge of investigating drug diversion crimes becomes manageable.


I certainly was aware of pharmacists but never had too much personal contact with them until late 1990. I had appreciated them the few times when I was younger and needed their services—something that increases as you age! 

But in 1990, I was fortunate enough to be put in charge of forming a brand-new unit for the Cincinnati Police Division (CPD). We called it the Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad. No one at CPD was really sure what pharmaceutical diversion was, but they had applied for a federal grant and were somewhat surprised when they were awarded almost $500,000 toward this effort. 

Because I was fresh out of internal affairs, not considered a pleasant assignment, I was offered the opportunity to choose personnel and start this new drug unit. No one really knew if it was important or not. I could have returned to the homicide squad, but I thought the challenge of something new was invigorating. 

We soon chose the investigators and secretary and started on the business of pursuing those individuals violating the prescription drug laws of Ohio. I had arrested numerous subjects in the early 1970s for drug possession crimes, but these crimes were different and involved working with America’s #1 profession— pharmacy. 

Almost immediately, pharmacists on the west side of our city pointed to a doctor who had been involved in criminal activity for years and continued to operate with impunity. Within 6 months, and with direction from the Ohio Pharmacy Board, we were able to indict and arrest this physician, with an ultimate conviction and stay in one of our penitentiaries. 

Another segment of drug diversion was found in our city’s health facilities. Once again, the hospital pharmacies became a beacon of professionalism and demonstrated overwhelming interest in simply “doing the right thing.” This was sometimes accomplished in spite of the fact that significant pressure was being applied by the hospital administration on the pharmacists to be less than candid with our detectives. The courage displayed by these pharmacists was truly impressive, and I never forgot it.

The nursing home investigations were even more challenging, but once again our pharmacists led the way in assisting us in weeding out nursing personnel who put their addictions ahead of patient care, especially when substitution was involved.

The supplying pharmacies for these nursing homes were repeatedly the ones who brought the diversion crimes to our attention and then assisted us in obtaining the information we needed to pursue the case. I always wondered how many clients these supplying pharmacies lost because of their unwavering mission to do the right thing—and protect patients.

I have said many times over the years that pharmacists are the number 1 ally of law enforcement when it comes to rooting out pharmaceutical diversion. Time and time again, I saw this dedication and tenacity from pharmacists while at CPD, and today with the Warren County Drug Task Force just a few miles north.

I attend countless pharmacy conferences and trainings every year, and recently was with the National Community Pharmacists Association annual conference held in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. Myself, Rick Zenuch from Purdue Pharma and Rx Patrol, and a young female pharmacy technician who had been the victim of 2 armed robberies at her pharmacy in Charleston, South Carolina, presented to a packed room on the subject of pharmacy crime.

The audience laughed politely at my jokes, loved Rick’s interesting information, and were quiet when the young lady talked about her harrowing experiences with a robber at her store. When we were done, they flooded us with great questions and comments, as many of them had also been the victim of a pharmacy robbery. When it was all done, my respect and admiration for the American pharmacist was once again renewed, and at the highest level possible!

In August 2003, I started a personal experience with a pharmacist, as my son blessed all of us by marrying Kelly, a retail pharmacist and now mother of 2 of my 13 grandchildren. Like the vast majority of pharmacists, Kelly too is a true professional (and also a super wife and mother)!

Because of my law enforcement perspective, and now my family connection, I salute pharmacists and have long understood why you are the most respected profession on earth. As I continue to grow older, I have an additional perspective as one of your patients and find myself filled with the same level of admiration. PT


Cmdr Burke is commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad. Cmdr John Burke America’s Pharmacists: Doing the Right Thing LegaL focus Drug Diversion & Abuse Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. 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. 



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