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Rise of prescription drug abuse puts pharmacists in legal jeopardy
As prescription drug abuse continues to rise in California and across the nation, pharmacists’ actions are being scrutinized by state licensing boards as well as local governments.

As prescription drug abuse continues to rise in California and across the nation, pharmacists’ actions are being scrutinized by state licensing boards as well as local governments. As a result, pharmacists should be on the lookout for signs of prescription drug abuse and be exacting in their use of California’s state prescription drug monitoring program to avoid challenges to their licenses.

California prescription drug statistics

In California in 2011, 43,000 pharmacists dispensed 318 million prescriptions. Between 2007 and 2012, prescriptions for painkillers like OxyContin increased 52 percent while dosages also increased 50 percent. Unfortunately, the rise in prescriptions for increasingly higher doses leaves pharmacists vulnerable to legal action if they do not catch a questionable prescription or turn away patients who do not have a perceived medical need for the drugs.

Pharmacists’ roles as the last line against abuse

With each California pharmacist filling an average of 20 prescriptions per day, it is little wonder that some abusers fall through the cracks. The law requires pharmacists to make subjective judgments about whether or not a patient has a medical need for their prescription or dosage and to refuse to fill prescriptions for those they suspect are addicts.

Additionally, pharmacists are expected to pore over doctors’ prescriptions for alarmingly high doses or other signs that the prescriptions may not be legitimate.

Legal charges that may jeopardize a pharmacist’s license

Pharmacists who fail to verify that the prescribed drugs meet a patient’s actual medical need or who do not catch questionable prescriptions from potentially unscrupulous doctors can be charged both civilly and criminally, including with second-degree murder if an overdose leads to death. Charges such as these can lead to a California Board of Pharmacy investigation and possible revocation of a pharmacist’s license as well.

Unfortunately, charges brought against pharmacists can implicate a licensed professional in a crime he or she had no intention of committing. Often, charges for failing to vigorously check a prescription or evaluate a patient’s medical need for the prescribed drug and dosage can be a wake-up call for well-intentioned pharmacists who overlooked these legal duties.

Tips to avoid legal action

Pharmacists concerned with being accused of a prescription drug law violation must be vigilant in their efforts to identify phony prescriptions and patients who do not have a medical need for their prescribed medication. While doing so remains a rather subjective task, there are several signs that should raise red flags with pharmacists:

  • Large volume of prescriptions for high-dose painkillers written by one doctor
  • Patients who live out-of-state or far away from the pharmacy
  • Inappropriately high dosages of painkillers and other addictive prescriptions

Lastly, pharmacists should take advantage of California’s prescription drug monitoring program. This is a database intended to track prescriptions of controlled substances like painkillers. However, the program still relies on a pharmacist using what the state calls their “expertise” to evaluate a patient for medical need and doctors for their honesty.

If you have been accused of failing to properly verify a patient or doctor’s prescription, it would be wise to contact an experienced license defense attorney.

Keywords: prescription drug abuse, pharmacist liability
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