As a practicing community pharmacist I read with interest the story on the fine agreed to by Walgreen’s Pharmacies. Since they agreed to the fine I assume that Walgreen’s agrees that they had a lack of control and has now taken steps to correct this oversight.
My concern is how the DEA spokesperson is so quick to point the finger at pharmacist’s oversight, wholesaler’s oversight but never seem to accept responsibility for the ultimate source of this problem. After all, which government agency licenses practitioners and enables them to prescribe these drugs in egregious quantities? Exactly the DEA! Who licenses the clinics that open? Exactly, the DEA! Who solicits from ALL of the major Pharmacy Benefits Managers dispensing data that shows who is writing these prescriptions? Exactly, the DEA!
My point is, why don’t they act on the entity that INITIATES the prescriptions? Because they are infringing on a physician’s decision making and that scares them to death! They are not physicians! By the time they get around to the obvious, thousands if not millions of prescriptions have been written.
Instead they pick the easy target, the community pharmacist. They question OUR judgment and give us ZERO opportunity to respond or explain why our decisions are made. They limit our ability to purchase medications. They threaten our suppliers if they don’t collect our patient’s private health data and turn it over to them.
We are being used as scapegoats for the meth craze and now the oxycodone explosion. The DEA is a typical bureaucratic entity that rather than solves the actual problem, would rather collect fines and pat themselves on the back publicly than listen to community pharmacists who MIGHT actually have some good ideas on how to address this problem.
Pharmacists KNOW who writes these prescriptions. In fact, a pharmacist friend of mine in Bean Station, TN lost his life at the hands of a drug head 2 weeks ago trying to do what the DEA expected him to do. We can point the DEA to rogue physicians. What we are not allowed to do, is play physician. How can we be SURE that a patient is a dealer and not a patient in real pain? One might say that you can tell by looking or that you can tell by the amount of the prescription but that is only true to a certain degree.
In the pharmacy in which I work we have strict protocols to determine whether or not to dispense. If it were up to our decision making process we would have removed hundreds of thousands of illicit medications from dealer’s hands. Instead when we turn them down they continue to go from pharmacy to pharmacy until they find one that is either too busy or slips up and gives them their medication. The root cause is the WRITING of the prescription. So instead of rewarding us for taking care of our patients they place arbitrary purchasing rules and squeeze wholesalers to limit the amounts that we can buy…whether or not we are following the rules. In turn this causes us to treat legitimate patients like drug addicts because we can’t get enough medication to fill their prescriptions.
It is like most issues facing community pharmacists today. The better we do our job the less we are allowed to do our job.
The bottom line is this…community pharmacists are the true gatekeepers of our emerging healthcare system BUT the “system” refuses to utilize us and pay us for the benefits we provide to our nation. We are not even recognized as a healthcare provider by Medicare so that we can be paid for providing services to our nation’s seniors. It is time to quit compromising our ability to do the job for which we have been trained. It is time for the DEA to quit squeezing those who want to be part of the solution and go after the obvious problem…the people that they license to write the prescriptions and begin the process.
I realize that by even commenting on this I place myself open to retribution but it is time to focus this debate on the real issue and not on the healthcare professional that places his/her life on the line everyday to make the right decisions.
** Copy and paste this link into your browser to hear an interview with Terry on this subject by the Pharmacy Podcast Network and Todd Eury