Risking it all

     Every once in a while I will hear a story about a pharmacist who breaks the law and steals some medications in some form of criminal act leading to their arrest.   I inevitably ask myself a question that always comes to my mind when I hear these stories:  why would someone risk it all? 

     The recent story I heard involved a pharmacist who was taking medications that belonged to patients at a local hospital.  It seemed so crazy to me that a pharmacist might risk their career and freedom for a few pills no matter what the circumstances were that lead them to act that way.  I don’t think I’ll ever understand the logic behind risking your career like that to steal something like prescription medications.  It seems reckless and just plain stupid.  

     That recent story of the pharmacist stealing patient medications made me think of a story from a few years back in a town I used to live.  There was a pharmacist there who was stealing medications from their pharmacy by taking bottles of pills at closing after everyone else had gone home.  That pharmacist was arrested after the pharmacy chain set up cameras, caught him on tape, and stopped him leaving work one night with bottles of drugs in his pocket.  What struck me about hearing that story was the fact that this particular pharmacist was the pharmacist in charge at that location were he was arrested.  I can’t help but wonder why pharmacists resort to these kinds of activities when they know their own livelihood will be on the line.   

     Perhaps these crimes are merely a crime of opportunity.  We all know that as pharmacists we have unprecedented access to controlled substances.  They literally hand you the keys to the controlled substance safe when you are a licensed pharmacist.  And working around the drugs for so long everyday might just make some people think about how easy it could be to take some pills for themselves.  Inventories can be adjusted and pill bottles can somehow disappear.  But I can’t believe that anyone with our job would actually risk it all even if they thought it was possible to get away with the crime.  That to me sounds crazy! 

     The only other thing I can think of to make these crimes make any sense in my mind is the fact that those pharmacists might have just been addicted to some drug just like anyone else.   Addiction happens and pharmacists are human too and we all could potentially become part of the drug addiction problem we have in this country.   It just seems odd for someone who should be a champion promoter for the proper use and distribution of controlled substances to get caught up in illegally obtaining drugs themselves. 

     There are programs that pharmacists can go through if they have a problem with drugs or alcohol.  I would hope that any pharmacist dealing with these sorts of issues would take advantage of those programs rather than ignoring them and later finding themselves on the wrong side of the law.  There is no need to potentially throw your career down the drain because of a stupid mistake.  Get help! 

     Pharmacists have too bright a future ahead of them to do things like steal medications and risk everything for a few pills.  I hope that every pharmacist that would even remotely consider such action would stop and think about the potential consequences involved in taking prescription medications unlawfully.  We should be setting an example for the rest of the general public instead of getting caught up in this kind of criminal activity ourselves.  And pharmacists of all people know the dangers involved in taking medications that aren’t prescribed for them under the direction of a treating physician. 

     Every student that goes through pharmacy school should be aware of the fact that their own career will be on the line if they break the law.  Think about all of the work you do just to become a pharmacist.  Would you really want to throw all of that away after working so hard to get that PharmD behind your name?  To me the answer is a resounding no!

    So I am left without answers to explain what happened every time I hear another story about a pharmacist who is arrested on drugs charges.  It seems very reckless and self destructive to potentially throw away an entire career and education just to steal some narcotics.  But it happens and I’m sure it will happen again in the future.  And I can’t help but wonder why someone would risk it all like that?  I never have an answer for that question.  Do you?

The Redheaded Pharmacist

6 Comments to “Risking it all”

  1. By Amanda, February 14, 2011 @ 11:07 am

    Part of our education was to talk to pharmacists who had been in drug abuse programs (most of which lost their license, some of them had done jail time). That’s worth doing. For some, they’d always been drinkers or abused some substance, and taking a few Vicodin was just the next step. For others, they just wanted to try it and became addicted that way. For all of them, it became an addiction. Like all addictions, it’s not something you can “think” yourself out of. Will your lose your license? Sure, but an addict doesn’t think that way. An addict just thinks about their next high.

    I have addicts in my family. They’d do anything to get their next high, including screwing their family over, selling their bodies. . . a “license” is a small thing compared to what most addicts would give up.

    I think for folks with an addictive personality, pharmacy is far too easy to abuse. Sometimes you don’t know you have that until it’s too late.

    That being said, I have no love for those who abuse the profession. You’re stealing your patient’s morphine and subbing it with normal saline? You go to jail. I don’t care how much of an addict you are. This particular pharmacist (he would take half of his patient’s morphine and then QS the vials with saline) was whining about how he never got a second chance and ended up mowing lawns to support his wife and kids. Boohoo. I say he can go to Hades for all I care. You don’t deserve a second chance. You hurt other people.

    Even for less offensive abusers, it’s too easy to go back. It’s like making an alcoholic a bartender. Pharmacy is a profession but also a privilege. I think once you abuse it, you don’t deserve a second chance.

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  2. By IAPharmer, February 14, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

    I agree, I don’t understand it. Why do it? You make excellent money; yeah you have to deal with insurance BS or upset retail customers etc. You want to give up a 6 figure salary, great benefits, descent hours etc.

    If you have a problem, get help, don’t ruin your job, your life, your family; grow up!

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  3. By KCflacpht, February 15, 2011 @ 5:56 am

    We had one Pharmacist fired for stealing ( and prosecuted/jailed) – not for stealing drugs, but stealing stuff like cokes, snacks, toothpaste, sundries, etc. They had figured out ( or she had confessed to- L&P never told) to over $2000.00 worth of stuff over time! Her excuse- SHE WASN’T PAID ENOUGH, and felt she was *owed* that because of her low salary??? I’d like to see what she felt like she was *owed* if she worked on a tech/cashier salary!! ( CRW- in case you’re asking).

    I also can’t understand theft- in any form. NOTHING in any store is worth more than my good name- nothing. Especially with all the programs that are out there to help people that have addiction problems ( that at least back to 2009 when I left) that were paid for by the company. With all the $$$ and time you all have to spend to get those degrees- to throw that away just seems really sad. Some of us would have given our right arms to have achieved that, but for whatever reason couldn’t.

    One other sad story I know of was a PIC that was fired for stealing drugs. Not for himself, but for his terminally ill wife. Her disease had gotten so costly that he was finding it hard to afford stuff, so that was how he tried to compensate. Dude- the company had/has “hardship” programs to help in those situations??? Why risk your license/job/self-esteem when help was a phone call away??????

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  4. By Smoking Blows, February 16, 2011 @ 4:32 am

    I have little sympathy for health care professionals who abuse drugs, especially ones like reported in this story –

    http://www.startribune.com/local/115663559.html

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  5. By carl bowman, November 7, 2012 @ 8:22 am

    I work Loss Prevention for a supermarket retail chain which has pharmacies. Over the last several years we have caught several pharmacists and pharmacy techs stealing. In fact, taking into account the difference in the number of employees in each department statisically our health care employees are more likely to steal than our other employees such as cashiers, department workers, managers etc. We recently caught one pharmacist stealing cartons of cigarettes, deli meals, snacks etc as well as cashing and keeping the money from various checks such as bill back checks from medicine vendors, no known addiction involved.

    From my observations of this seemingly insensible phenomenon these practices stem from a sense of entitlement that health care professionals carry compared to most of the other population. It quickly becomes obvious from my interviews with them that these people carry a belief that they are above the morals and laws that dictate how the rest of the population lives their lives. This is going to sound like some personal agenda but these events are true and all can be independently verified. I had a Walmart Pharmacist ram me from behind while I was waiting to turn left at a red light. He stated to me that he didn’t carry car insurance and offered to simply pay for the damage to my vehicle. I was driving a company vehicle and so that was not possible as a police report would have to be made. My point is this person believed he did not have to carry automobile insurance like everyone else does even though it’s the law in our state. He felt his earnings justified this option for him.But what if I had been seriously injured and my bills and personal suffering amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars?

    While working for a different chain I overheard one pharmacist who was arguing with an elderly person say to them,”look lady, I fill your scripts, you don’t want to piss me off.” Frankly I think strictor controls of pharmacists and other health care professionals should be in place in order to better monitor these professions. Maybe another actor who has his own private doctors and pharmacists at their beck and call won’t die from a drug over dose.

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  6. By billy b, June 4, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

    Story here..Massachusetts. Where a Doctor was writing scripts of various medications. Ie:benzodiazepines, pain medications, amphetamines, etc. And the people would fill them and bring them back to the Doctor, who would pay them some amount and the doctor would use them or sell them.
    Always some scam.

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