Pharmacists—Cops or Not? (Part 2)

APRIL 01, 2006
Cmdr John Burke

Last month's article discussed the seemingly declining interest on the part of law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting drug-diversion cases. This trend was coupled with the criticism levied by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) that pharmacists should be more proactive in this area.

I have written many times in these articles about the frustration experienced by caring pharmacists across the United States who very much want to address the drug-diversion issue in their community but are unable to interest their most logical partner—the police!

A few of you faced with this dilemma have made attempts to detain or make a "citizen's arrest" of the perpetrator. The majority of pharmacists give up after much frustration, however. Some stop reporting the crimes to police, and some may even be filling prescriptions that are glaringly suspicious. The problem is that neither route is likely to be in your best interest.

It is almost always a poor decision for pharmacists to get physically involved in incidents that occur in their pharmacy, when no one's life is in imminent danger. No money or drugs are worth risking serious injury or even death when a criminal is trying to divert drugs through forged prescriptions or an armed robbery.

The other extreme, of course, is when the pharmacist has lost all interest in curbing diversion and may even continue to fill prescriptions that he or she knows are likely to be altered or totally bogus. This behavior actually encourages drug diverters to frequent the store, as the word quickly spreads that there is virtually no risk at the facility of being caught for their crimes. Drug diversion increases, while legitimate customers may begin to shy away from the pharmacy. Some of the most blatant behavior may put the pharmacist at risk for licensure action, civil liability, or even criminal arrest.

As is the case with many things in life, the answer is likely not at either extreme but requires some balance.

This balance may involve paying close attention to the description of suspects, keeping the film in the surveillance camera current, preserving a bogus prescription for possible fingerprints, or carefully obtaining a license number of a getaway vehicle. These are all relatively safe steps that may very well allow police to catch the criminal who just left the store.

The last suggestion to those who are in this scenario is to not give up. It is important that you stay diligent in addressing drug diversion by refusing to fill fraudulent prescriptions and reporting all of these incidents to your local police, regardless of their interest level. Law enforcement will never take an interest in your problem if you are not reporting the crimes when they occur. When you fail to report these crimes to disinterested police departments, you actually their complacency.

Seek out experienced speakers on the topic of drug diversion for your local pharmacist association meeting, or petition your state board to provide continuing education credits for these types of talks. If you are having trouble finding such a speaker, e-mail me directly, and I will assist you in finding one through the membership of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.

John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 38-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, or by phone at 513-336-0070.