Pharmacists—Cops or Not? (Part 1)

Pharmacy Times
Volume 0

Just recently, I was approached bysome rather irate pharmacistswho had seen a couple of articlesabout the fact that they were receivingvery little training on dealing with drugdiversion. The articles went on to point afinger at them for not doing more to curbthe abuse and addiction of pharmaceuticaldrugs.

The National Center on Addiction andSubstance Abuse (CASA) at ColumbiaUniversity conducted a research projecton the problem of prescription drugabuse. I offered a small amount of informationfor this study. The study providedmuch of the information that was causingmy pharmacist friends to be upset.

The results of the study showed thatthe abuse of controlled prescriptiondrugs almost doubled from 1992 to 2003.The number of Americans abusing thesedrugs climbed from 7.8 million to 15.1million. During this same time, the abuseof these drugs by teenagers went up by212%. CASA also found thatthe prescribing of controlledsubstances increased by150%—a rate that is nearly3 times the rate of increasefor all other prescriptionmedications.

The CASA report alsostated that less than half ofthe pharmacists surveyedhad received any training inpreventing drug diversion,and only about half of themgave high marks for theeducation they received onthis topic. CASA Chairman-President Joseph Califano Jrindicated that pharmacistsshould be more vigilant andtake more responsibility incurbing the abuse of prescriptiondrugs.

So, should pharmacistsbe more like cops, or not?

Undoubtedly, there hasbeen a huge rise in the prescribingand abuse of pharmaceuticaldrugs over the past decade.Pharmacists, like law enforcement officers,continue to find stopping this abusea demanding part of their jobs, yet withfew resources available—and in someinstances, shrinking resources.

In the past week, I discovered that thedrug diversion enforcement group of theCincinnati Police Department, which Ihad the honor of organizing and which Icommanded for 9 years, had been essentiallydisbanded due to funding cuts. Aneighboring drug task force laid off itsonly pharmaceutical diversion investigator,further diminishing this resource forour pharmacists in southwest Ohio.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolatedsituation. Many law enforcement agenciesnever had a drug diversion investigatoror unit, and none is likely to form duringthis time of fiscal troubles in all formsand levels of government.

I have found that pharmacists aremore than willing to assist law enforcementregarding drug diversion. Unquestionably,they are law enforcement'sessential partners in successful pharmaceuticaldiversion investigations in anycommunity.

The problem is, how do pharmacistsaddress prescription drug issues at theirworkplace if law enforcement is notthere to assist them? If prescribing andabuse of controlled substances continueto rise, and law enforcement's fundingand interest in these investigations aredeclining, what can pharmacists do inthe meantime?

I will take a further look at this problemin next month's article.

John Burke, commander ofthe Warren County, Ohio,drug task force and retiredcommander of the CincinnatiPolice PharmaceuticalDiversion Squad, isa 38-year veteran of lawenforcement. Cmdr Burkealso is the current presidentof the National Association of Drug DiversionInvestigators. For information, he can bereached by e-mail at, viathe Web site, or byphone at 513-336-0070.

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