Abuse is No Secret

Addiction, Facing Drug Awareness in Barbourville and Knox County, KY

Susan’s Story

As told to Sarah Wilder


Pharmacy school prepares you for a lot of things, but one thing it doesn’t prepare you for is watching a customer get arrested in your business’s parking lot. And that’s exactly what happened to me one month after receiving my pharmacy license.

It all started with a call from a doctor’s office. The lady who worked there was calling in a prescription for pain pills. That seems normal enough, it happens every day. But something about this call (and I can’t remember now exactly what) seemed a little suspicious. So just to be safe, we called back the doctor’s office regarding this prescription and, sure enough, they hadn’t called it in.

Turns out, the lady who wanted the pills had pretended to be from the doctor’s office and called in the prescription for herself. Since this is a clear case of prescription forgery, we notified the police. However, to prosecute for a prescription forgery we have to catch the person in the act of trying to pick up the medication. So we did all we could do at the time and flagged this prescription so we could be ready if the lady ever did try to come pick up the order.

It was about three weeks later when it happened.

The lady called back and wanted her pain pill prescription. We immediately notified the police. They came and waited in the parking lot until this lady showed up. She entered the business, filled her prescription, and then left. Upon leaving, she was immediately arrested—in our parking lot. She had committed prescription forgery…all for a few pain pills.

OK, so maybe pharmacy school didn’t prepare me for that one, but I can’t say it came as a surprise. I remember in high school hearing about another drug arrest that was made in a pharmacy parking lot. A suspicious man was hanging around the pharmacy, and the questions posed to the pharmacist coupled with the behavior of the man made the workers suspicious enough to call the police. When they got there, they found a running meth lab.

So prescription drug abuse is no secret, especially in the pharmacy industry.

In the past few years alone there have been new systems introduced to help prevent this, including: MethCheck online, a nationwide database for law enforcement and medical professionals alike to track pseudoephedrine sales—special laws put in place to limit the amount of pseudoephedrine an individual can buy at a time—and KASPER , Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting, the nation’s first program that tracks controlled substance prescriptions within a state (other states have now picked up developed similar systems).

I guess one of the biggest differences in the industry I have seen, though, would be the rising popularity of pain clinics in the last few years. They are designed to help people who are addicted to opioid medications, and help wean them off of these drugs. But honestly I don’t know how much help they are. The medications they prescribe at these clinics are expensive and aren’t often covered by insurance. I see people, or families of people, come in all the time to get these medicines, and they have to pay out of pocket. That’s a lot of money for some of them, money that could be used elsewhere to help their families, I’m sure.

But despite all this, people still try to figure out a way to get more pills. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had people call trying to get their prescription refilled, and the list of excuses they use for losing pills is just as long:

“I lost them,”

“I dropped them in the lake,”

“I dropped them in the toilet,”

“My dog ate them,”

And I could go on.

And if they can’t get the pills from us, people will go to the streets to buy them. We know this because they then ask us to identify what they’ve bought. This happens so often, we’ve had to start refusing to identify pills unless they are brought into the office.

I’m lucky enough to say that my personal life hasn’t been directly affected by drug abuse, but my professional life definitely has. Prescription drug abuse is a problem, and it isn’t going away. I can attest to this, because I deal with it almost daily.

I deal with it when I have to check a prescription in KASPER just to make sure it hasn’t already been filled at another pharmacy.

I deal with it when I answer a call and have to tell someone, “No, I can’t tell you what that is unless you bring it in to me.”

I deal with it when I have to count, then recount, and then have two other techs count the inventory of controlled substance meds after filling a prescription.

And I definitely have to deal with it on the rare occasion I have to call the police because I suspect one of my customers is trying to commit prescription forgery…

Just to get those few extra pain pills.

This story originally appeared in Facing Addiction in Knox County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky.

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