Patients profiled at pharmacy counters
By Kean Bauman. CREATED Feb 23, 2015
Patients with legitimate prescriptions are being turned away at the pharmacy window. It’s something Contact 13 has been investigating for more than a year.
For the first time, a former insider speaks out exclusively to Darcy Spears to expose how some pharmacists are profiling people in need of pain pills.
“It would be left to the pharmacists’ discretion to see which prescriptions we filled and which prescriptions we didn’t,” says Rose Velazquez a former Pharmacy Technician.
Rosie Velazquez cared for patients from behind CVS. pharmacy windows for nearly 30 years. She was let go last year, but not before she saw a disturbing change.
“It was difficult for everyone. Customers were going from store to store and we can hear their frustration.” And so has Contact 13.
Since late 2013 we’ve heard complaints about many drugstores. “I went to 5 different pharmacies,” said Sean Ladner, a quadriplegic who lives with chronic pain after serious car accident.
“All Christmas Eve and all Christmas Cay, she was in pain, screaming in pain,” says Carl Chamberlan, who lost his wife to cancer.
We have heard from people suffering, in desperate need of medication. “And they refused me. I went back 2 or 3 times,” says Carl. But pharmacy after pharmacy denied their prescriptions for relief.
“I went from Walmart to Walmart, to a Walgreens to an Albertsons and back to my Walmart,” says Mary Borowski.
Contact 13 discovered major pharmacy chains were reacting to a DEA crackdown on prescription drug abuse. CVS. and Walgreens were slapped with massive fines. Some retail stores lost their license to sell controlled drugs so they put in strict procedures to fill prescriptions and started turning many patients away.
“We’ve had patients, had to go to anywhere from 5 to 10…we had one patient go to 30 pharmacies,” says Dr. Marx a pain management specialist.
“It was hard to get the medication because we would order 30 bottles from the manufacturer and they would only send us 10,” says Rosie.
Rosie says she was ordered to turn away patients who came from other stores. “We would tell them that we do not have the medication in stock and we had to lie to our customers. I really felt bad doing that.” She says a supervisor began profiling customers “She would take a look at them and if they looked rugged, she would say, ‘tell them we don’t have it.’”
What else would cause the pharmacist concern? “Tattoos definitely,” says Rosie. Rosie says a pharmacy manager was suspicious of young adults in their 20s and 30s even if they’d come directly from a hospital after surgery or being injured in an accident. She was even told to turn away husbands whose wives just had C-sections.
“’Tell them we don’t have it,’ when I knew well we did have the drug in stock.” And here’s a kicker: people who looked sick and in pain were suspect too. “Someone who actually didn’t look like they were taking very good care of themselves,” says Rosie.
Sometimes pharmacies Rosie worked at were out of certain meds. “But the majority of the time, it was just refusing the customer because of what they looked like,” she explains. She says the pain pills they did have were to be held for regular customers.
So if that’s the case, why not tell patients the truth? “Oh we’re not allowed to say anything like that! We’re just allowed to say we didn’t have the medication,” says Rosie. Many of the patients we spoke to in the last year say they were treated like addicts or, “like I was a drug dealing criminal,” says patient James Kruger.
Rosie says there is a system in place to weed out abusers, which could be done with a few clicks on the pharmacy computer. “So we were able to tell that they were either coming from a pill mill or they were trying to get the same medication twice in a week.”
CVS has never agreed to any of our requests for on-camera interviews and this time is no different. They sent us this statement: “Ensuring that patients with a legitimate medical need have access to pain relief medication is part of CVS/pharmacy’s purpose of helping people on their path to better health. Ms. Velazquez’s allegations are not consistent with our Company’s policies, procedures or values. At the same time, the abuse of controlled substance pain medication is a nationwide epidemic that is exacting a devastating toll upon individuals, families and communities. Pharmacists have a legal obligation under state and federal law to determine whether a controlled substance was issued for a legitimate purpose and to decline to fill prescriptions they have reason to believe were issued for a non-legitimate purpose. Pharmacists must evaluate each controlled substance prescription and consider a variety of factors when exercising their professional judgment as to whether or not to fill a controlled substance prescription.”
Rosie understands the dangers of abuse, but she couldn’t stand by and watch legitimate patients get caught in the middle and turned away. “That hurt me, Rosie says, “because I truly care about the customers and getting their medications and that was my job — helping them feel better.”
For more than a year we’ve been demanding answers from the major pharmacy chains, lawmakers and the Nevada Board of Pharmacy. We’ve been getting the same broad response over and over again with no meaningful solution: Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic that needs to be addressed and there needs to be a balance to make sure legitimate patients get their medication. But hundreds of patients who contacted us are still in pain and have no answers.
If you’re being denied or delayed when trying to get a prescription filled let us know about. Send us an email to email@example.com
Filed under: General Problems