Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the United States, and people from all walks of life are involved. I’ve read a few articles recently that tell stories of soldiers, retired NFL players, teenagers, and even healthcare professionals, like pharmacists, who are caught up in the cycle of prescription drug abuse. The general public can access these substances more easily today than ever before.
As a pharmacy technician, you will certainly encounter situations in which a patient or co-worker is involved in prescription drug abuse, in one way or another. You need to be aware of your surroundings and be able to detect when someone is acting strangely or doing things out of the ordinary. Here are a couple of personal experiences that were shared by Rebecca Hutchins, one of our first Pharmacy Technician instructors who was also instrumental in creating the Career Step Pharm Tech program. These happened while she was working as a pharmacy technician—keep in mind, you could find yourself in the middle of a similar story.
One afternoon while working in the pharmacy, a new patient came in to fill a prescription. I received the prescription after having her fill out a patient information and history form and confirming her date of birth and known drug allergies. I put the prescription in a basket and in line to be put into the computer. When it came time to type that particular prescription, I noticed that the prescribing physician was not in our system because he was an out-of-town doctor. Not only was the prescribing doctor’s office approximately 200 miles away, but the prescription was also for a narcotic. I mentioned it to the supervising pharmacist, who then asked to see the prescription. She reviewed it and suspected it was a fake prescription. All of the combined factors made us feel uncomfortable with filling the prescription. 1) The patient was new; 2), the drug was a narcotic and 3) the doctor was from out of town.
Don’t get the wrong idea though—new patients aren’t automatically suspicious. In fact, pharmacies love getting new patients. Even with the first two factors, new patient and a narcotic prescription, suspicion is not normally aroused. But if a patient is in enough pain that she needs a narcotic in order to feel relief, it doesn’t seem logical to drive three hours to get the prescription order filled. Additionally, the pharmacist thought the way the prescription was written didn’t reflect the typical style of a physician. With yet another reason for suspicion, the pharmacist made the decision to call and verify the order with the prescribing physician. What we discovered was that the physician had retired and the patient had somehow stolen a prescription pad.
From then on, things weren’t pretty for the patient. The pharmacist called the police and the patient was arrested when she came to pick up the prescription. I wasn’t kept in the loop with all of the charges and legal proceedings that followed, but I’m sure it was expensive, embarrassing, and not worth it. Thanks to attention to detail by the entire pharmacy staff, we were able to prevent at least one instance of drug abuse.
My second story involves drug diversion by a pharmacist. I worked for a chain pharmacy that had “relief pharmacists.” These pharmacists would fill in at pharmacies when the regular pharmacists were on vacation. This particular pharmacist had worked at our pharmacy a couple of times. We didn’t know her very well, but we didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary at first.
Then, one Saturday morning, she showed up about twenty minutes late to open the pharmacy. It was unprofessional, but nothing to be alarmed about. But then, she started acting strange. She slurred her words when speaking to patients on the phone, she kept asking patients to repeat very simple things, and at one point she just flat out sat down on the floor of the pharmacy, crossed her legs, and stared off into space.
It quickly became apparent that something was seriously wrong. Her behavior was far from normal. Since she was the only pharmacist on duty, we had to notify the store manager. He came over to the pharmacy with security and took the pharmacist to a back office. After a few days, we found out she had stolen bottles of narcotics from our pharmacy as well as a couple other pharmacies where she had worked as a relief pharmacist. Once again, I don’t know the details of the consequences she suffered, but I’m confident her license was suspended or put on probation and that she lost her job with our company.
These instances are not everyday occurrences for most pharmacies, but you can see the need to be attentive at work to situations that are abnormal. Always discuss the situation with a pharmacist if a patient, fellow technician, pharmacy clerk, or another staff pharmacist is involved. If the situation involves the pharmacist on duty or the pharmacy manager, speak to your manager’s boss. As a pharmacy technician, you play an important role in preventing prescription drug abuse. Take that responsibility seriously, and always be an honest and ethical employee.