Drug Diversion and Abuse: Don't Be Collateral Damage

JANUARY 01, 2009
Cmdr John Burke

John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 40-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.

Just recently, another high-profile athlete, this time from the New York Giants, has gotten in trouble with law enforcement. It seems that he brought an unregistered firearm into a nightclub and somehow the gun accidentally discharged, striking him in the leg. This creates a potentially career-ending event, because New York City has stringent gun laws involving mandatory sentencing. If this was the end of the story, and only the talented wide receiver was in trouble by his doing, then I might say "let the chips fall where they may."

It is not the end of the story, however, but the beginning of collateral damage that is caused by normally sound-thinking individuals who become enamored with celebrities. It is not necessarily an uncommon problem with anyone who is taxed with decision-making authority and encounters one of our nation's "heroes." I have seen it happen to law enforcement, lawyers, and health professionals—in some cases, it caused the loss of a job or even criminal prosecution.

In the New York City case, it was reported that the nightclub management knew that this professional football player had an illegal firearm on his person when he entered the establishment and now will face possible problems with its liquor license permit, creating a significant problem with operating at a profit in the future.

The other part of this collateral damage reportedly involved the hospital that this football celebrity was transported to, where the physician on duty decided to allow this player to register under a false name at the emergency room. At the time of publication, she has been suspended from her job and faces disciplinary action; no word whether the hospital itself also will face some sanctions.

So, why is this the topic of an article that is devoted to drug diversion in a pharmacists' magazine? It is important that pharmacists do not fall into this trap of providing special treatment to celebrities or any other individuals, which violates personal ethics, administrative rules, or especially criminal law. Taking part in this may classify the pharmacist as "collateral damage," which can have devastating effects on his or her job, family, and even freedom.

Knowingly or recklessly filling prescriptions under false names for individuals can constitute serious offenses that could result in the consequences described above. Undoubtedly, prescribers in this country are writing prescriptions for people in a name and address that they know is blatantly false. These individuals are generally noted athletes, actors, politicians, or others who share some portion of notoriety, usually in the public eye, and expect to be treated much better than the average citizen.

The problem is that administrative rules and criminal laws do not state that pharmacists can deviate from their practice as long as it is for someone who is famous! Keeping in mind your "corresponding responsibility" in filling prescriptions, it is vitally important that you do not land in the trap that the New York City nightclub and physician did with their football "hero."

This is written with the sincere intent that no pharmacists put themselves in the position of compromising their values for the sake of a celebrity, and then pay a lifetime of consequences for one poor decision. A celebrity does not have to be of national repute—it may be someone who only would attract local attention—but this person can still make you "collateral damage," and it is never worth it.