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DEA Investigations: Signs of Opioid Abuse That Pharmacies Must Watch Out For

April 1, 2022 DEA Defense Lawyers

The past two decades have seen opioid addiction grow into one of the country’s most pressing public health issues. To combat the crisis, the Drug Enforce Administration (DEA) is asking pharmacies to do more to keep dangerous drugs out of abusers’ hands. To stay on the right side of the law, pharmacies must actively seek to prevent the diversion of prescription opioids into the possession of addicts and abusers.

In recent years, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been coming down hard on pharmacies accused of complicity in the opioid epidemic. With many deadly doses originating in pharmacies, the government has shown a steadfast commitment to stopping the flow of drugs at its source. In order to protect customers from addiction and themselves from legal action, pharmacies must maintain a comprehensive opioid compliance plan.

Diversion Red Flags Pharmacies Must Be Aware Of

One of a pharmacy’s principal responsibilities in the opioid era is to look out for the potential diversion of drugs into the wrong hands. Individual pharmacists can thwart drug abuse by watching for these typical signs of diversion.

Requests for Early Refills

If a patient wants a refill before their previous prescription should have run out, it likely means they’re taking more than they should or selling some doses on the side. Refilling such a prescription early would only enable further abuse.

Manipulated or Forged Prescriptions

Many abusers will fake or alter a prescription to obtain the drugs illegally. Forgeries aren’t always easy to spot, but excessively neat handwriting and the misuse of abbreviations are tell-tale signs.

Pharmaceutical Companies Offering Financial Incentives

In most cases, it is illegal for a pharmacy to accept financial incentives from a pharmaceutical company to fill certain prescriptions. While there are some exceptions to this general rule, pharmacies should always exercise caution before accepting payments.

One Patient With Prescriptions From Multiple Doctors

A typical patient will only bring prescriptions issued by a single doctor or medical provider. When someone presents multiple prescriptions from different sources, it likely means they’re trying to cheat the system to obtain more doses.

Prescriptions From Doctors in Distant Places

While a patient might have a legitimate reason for filling a prescription in a pharmacy that’s far from their medical provider, such a case is often indicative of abuse. Many such patients are searching far and wide for a pharmacist willing to fill a suspicious or fraudulent prescription.

Several People With Similar Prescriptions at Once

If multiple people present nearly identical prescriptions one after the other, it might well be a group of abusers seeking to continue using. It could also be a group of dealers hoping to increase the size of their inventory. In any case, a degree of suspicion is warranted.

Customers With Visible Signs of Opioid Dependence

A pharmacist should never fill an opioid prescription for someone showing clear signs of opioid dependence. These signs include aggression, intoxication, and extreme sedation.

Customers Paying in Cash

There is nothing illegal or unethical about paying for a prescription with cash. All the same, there is an undeniable correlation between cash payments and addicted patients. If a cash payment accompanies any of the other items on this list, you’re right to be somewhat suspicious of the patient.

Reluctance to Answer Questions

Nothing gives away potential malfeasance like a general evasiveness. A legitimate patient should have no problem answering basic questions with composure and candor. It’s completely normal to ask a patient why they’re taking the medication and how long they’ve been taking it. Pharmacies may be legally obligated to withhold medications from patients they’ve caught lying.

Simultaneous Prescriptions for the Components of a Known “Drug Cocktail”

Patients sometimes present a combination of prescriptions that make abuse more likely. Certain medications can be combined to form “drug cocktails” that are often particularly addictive and especially dangerous. Pharmacists should know what drugs create these dangerous mixtures and watch out for patients looking to create them.

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