Showing Identification at the Pharmacy Counter

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Friday, January 13, 2012
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Requiring photo identification for the pick-up of controlled substances whold help reduce their availability on the street.

I knew before I wrote this article that some of you would oppose the idea of requiring individuals picking up controlled substance prescriptions to show photo identification (ID). This would require additional labor of an already labor-burdened profession, and some of you are probably reluctant to act as a cop when you signed on to be a pharmacist!

I understand, and actually sympathize with, this predicament as you go about your task of filling sometimes hundreds of prescriptions each day. However, few measures that can be implemented at the point of sale would be as effective in reducing drug diversion as requiring the individual picking up the controlled substance prescription to show photo ID.

Of course, in addition to requiring the ID to be presented, the pharmacy employee must make some kind of record once they have visually verified the individual’s identity. Unless some kind of swipe card system is available, such as the system that captures pseudoephedrine (PSE) sales in many pharmacies, this manual verification will require some time and effort on the part of an employee.

As most of you realize, controlled substance prescriptions are a small percentage of the prescriptions that you fill every day. I am not talking about requiring this action for noncontrolled substances, so the number of identifications that would have to be shown in any given day would remain limited.

It amazes me that we require photo ID for individuals to pick up PSE products and, if their age is in question, cigarettes or alcohol, but those same individuals can pick up someone’s oxycodone prescription without scrutiny. I am not saying that requiring ID for PSE, cigarettes, and alcohol is a bad thing, but with the abuse and diversion and overdose deaths of controlled substance prescriptions at an alltime high, it seems that this requirement should be the same at the pharmacy.

This requirement is not designed to keep individuals other than the patient from picking up the controlled substance prescription, as this is sometimes necessary due to the health of the patient. When that happens, however, a record of the person receiving the medication is documented for possible future use if some sort of deception or scam is being conducted.

One of the biggest areas of pharmacy crime that the ID requirement would help deter is the professional prescription drug rings. These are organized criminal enterprises that either steal blank prescriptions or find methods to manufacture or copy prescriptions to present to pharmacies in 1 area, across the state, or even throughout the United States.

The prescription drug rings may recruit dozens of willing violators to have a prescription written in a variety of false names and then presented at the pharmacy, with no requirement for photo ID. In some of these cases, a false phone number for a doctor’s office is on the prescription, and when you try to verify that it is genuine, you are actually talking to a co-conspirator in the parking lot. Requiring photo identification in this scenario makes this operation much riskier, to say the least.

One other common scam is to have an accomplice pass a legitimate controlled substance prescription for their friend, and then the friend reports that he or she has had it stolen and needs the prescriber to write them an additional script. Taking this scam even further, if no ID is required, the recipient of the original prescription can have it filled at a distant pharmacy and still report it being stolen and have it passed by another.

I expect to get e-mails on this article from some of you who are less than excited about this kind of law passing in your state. Remember that I understand, but I still feel the value of this requirement will reduce these kinds of diversion, ultimately saving you some time and aggravation in your job. PT

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

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