"Mug of the Month"

OCTOBER 01, 2005
Cmdr John Burke

A couple of years ago, Sergeant Bill Stivers of the Louisville (Ky) Metro Police invented a program called "Mug of the Month." This program was designed to provide recognition to Louisville area pharmacists who went above and beyond the call of duty to identify drug diversion and work positively with law enforcement officials.

Since then, Sgt Stivers has handed out dozens of hand-painted coffee mugs to area pharmacists for their work in cases involving "doctor shopping," forged and altered prescriptions, and a host of other crimes committed in Louisville area pharmacies that were brought to the attention of the police.

Sgt Stivers commands the pharmaceutical diversion unit of the Louisville Metro Police Department and has been an innovator and national speaker in this area. His personal drive and enthusiasm have been infectious to both his own personnel and the area pharmacists that make programs to combat drug diversion so effective.

Although the award is a nicely prepared coffee mug with little monetary value, it has been an invaluable asset to Sgt Stiver's program and a coveted award for the area pharmacists who have received one. The award is featured in the Louisville Metro's newsletter that goes out to hundreds of area health professionals.

Periodically, law enforcement officers receive thanks and congratulations from the general public. Too often, however, my peers and I unintentionally overlook the work that citizens have done to assist law enforcement officials in their duties. Those police agencies that conduct drug-diversion investigations could not function effectively without the cooperation of their area health professionals, especially pharmacists.

When we started the Cincinnati Police Department's Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad in 1990, the big question was whether we could earn the cooperation of pharmacists. So the first action I had my investigators take was to personally visit each pharmacy in Cincinnati to introduce themselves. They explained the new program and stated that we wanted to work together with pharmacists to address the drug-diversion issues. I planned to have the officers visit each pharmacy every 3 months to talk to the pharmacists personally.

Any anxiety that I had about cooperation from the area pharmacists was quickly dispelled. Most of them had been frustrated that, although they had reported drug diversion to uniformed officers, there seemed to be little interest or knowledge of the crimes being attempted or committed every day in their stores. Because there was no specialized unit working on drug diversion at the time, they had eventually grown weary of trying to deal with doctor shoppers and those forging or altering prescriptions.

Information poured into our drug-diversion squad office from our pharmacists from almost the first day that we started the visits. I found that there was so much work for the 4 investigators that it was impossible to make a personal visit to every pharmacy every 3 months, or every year, for that matter.

This is the kind of cooperation and working relationship that allows law enforcement in the drug-diversion field to be so successful. With his permission, we copied Sgt Stiver's "Mug of the Month" program and began handing out our own version of the coffee vessel to our area pharmacists, like the one in the photo. Pharmacist Kelly Doerman of Meijer's Pharmacy in West Chester, Ohio, won the cup for demonstrating outstanding work in helping to apprehend an area criminal who was passing some exceptionally well-forged oxycodone (OxyContin) prescriptions.

Thanks go to the rest of you who do not have the benefit of a pharmacist recognition program but are still diligent every day in identifying and pursuing drug diverters and cooperating with your law enforcement agency. We could not do it without you!

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.