It is no secret that America'spharmacists often have difficultygetting law enforcementto investigate and prosecuteprescription drug offenders.Virtually every time I give a presentationto a pharmacist group,at least one individual points outthe fact that the police in thejurisdiction are unwilling to takethe matter seriously.
This understandably frustratesthe pharmacist who is trying todo the right thing by discouragingprescription drug seekersfrom "doctor shopping" andinundating his or her pharmacywith bogus or altered prescriptions.It is a difficult question toanswer, and if the police do nottake more interest, the pharmacisteventually gives up.
Although prescription drugawareness is at an all-time high, Iam concerned that the increasedlaw enforcement involvement inthis monumental problem may start to wane considerablyin the next year. The need for homeland security is partly toblame, as the federal government pours vast amounts ofmoney into this seemingly bottomless pit. The security ofour country is of the utmost importance, but sometimeswhen you "rob Peter to pay Paul," both suffer.
A large portion of the drug task forces in America arefunded through the Byrne Memorial Grants. This year,2005, is the last year for this funding, as it is placed intowhat is called the Justice Assistance Grants (JAG). Manyadministrators, like me, just applied for the calendar year2006 for funding for drug task forces. The problem is thatthe JAG grants have 50% or less of what were availablefunds in years past for drug law enforcement. Currently,JAG grants for drug task forces for the calendar year 2007have no money slated for these criminal investigations.This means that many drug task forces in the United Stateswill fold, and others will operate with reduced manpowerand funds to pursue drug offenders, including upper-leveltraffickers.
Some of the current drug taskforces have a full-or part-timeinvestigator working on prescriptiondrug abuse crimes. Unfortunately,the drug diversion investigatorwill be the first job to beeliminated during the inevitablecuts. Even though prescriptiondrug abuse outranks all other illicitdrug problems except marijuana,administrators will removethis position from their task forceif they currently have one.
What this means to the averageretail pharmacist is that if there ispresently cooperation from locallaw enforcement, beginning in2006 that cooperation may weakenand die. This means there maybe no response to drug diversionproblems, or assistance will occurdays later by an investigator whohas little interest in or understandingof the prescription drugabuse issue.
What pharmacists can do is usetheir professional political power. They can make it an issueat local or state pharmacist organizations to lobby with locallaw enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and even the politiciansthat ultimately control their activity. When the localpolice chief's prescriptions get filled every month, pharmacistscan make it a point to gently remind him or her howmuch diversion investigators mean to them and to the prescriptiondrug abuse problem in their communities.
Pharmacists are consistently thought of as one of themost admired professions by the general public, and withadmiration there is often the potential for positive influence.They can use this kind of influence on decision makersin their communities to focus on some of the pressingproblems at home—like prescription drug abuse.
John Burke, director of the Warren County, Ohio, drugtask force and retired commander of the CincinnatiPolice Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 32-year veteranof law enforcement. For information, he can bereached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, via the Web sitewww.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.