Drug thefts by pharmacists are persistent problem

File photo. (MGN)
File photo. (MGN)

MADISON (AP) – It’s a persistent problem: thefts of controlled substances by pharmacists who have ready access to drugs.

Relatively few of the state’s nearly 6,000 licensed pharmacists have been caught diverting drugs, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday, but the problem makes up a large proportion of cases handled by the Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board.

A State Journal analysis found that of 64 pharmacists the board took action against between 2011 and 2013, 41 were suspected of or had engaged in drug diversion. Many of the thefts were for personal use.

Druggists are trained to guard controlled substances carefully, but it may be impossible to prevent all drug thefts by pharmacists, said Christopher Decker, chief executive officer of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin.

Pharmacies typically require two signatures on the ordering, receiving and dispensing of controlled substances, Decker said. They’re required to do annual inventories and report losses to the federal government. Some install security cameras, do random audits or do random drug tests in an effort to prevent diversions, he said.

“It’s sort of like a bank and its money,” he said.

When UW Hospital officials learned in 2009 that the head of their cancer pharmacy stole more than 27,000 opioid pills over three years, they increased audits and required double checks on dispensed drugs. But two years later, another pharmacist at the hospital was caught taking controlled substances for personal use, about 50 diazepam and lorazepam pills over two months.

Since then, UW Hospital has boosted audits again, installed more security cameras and required even less-regulated drugs to be stored securely.

“We try to learn from every circumstance,” said Ron Sliwinski, the hospital’s chief operating officer.

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