Diversion Control Division, US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration

Pharmacist's Manual - APPENDIX A-N

Appendix D

Pharmacist's Guide to Prescription Fraud

The purpose of this guide is to ensure that controlled substances continue to be available for legitimate medical and scientific purposes while preventing diversion into the illicit market. It is not the intent of this publication to discourage or prohibit the use of controlled substances where medically indicated. However, nothing in this guide should be construed as authorizing or permitting any person to conduct any act that is not authorized or permitted under federal or state laws.

Pharmacist's Responsibilities

The abuse of prescription drugs—especially controlled substances—is a serious social and health problem in the United States today. As a healthcare professional, pharmacists share responsibility for preventing prescription drug abuse and diversion.

  • Pharmacists have a personal responsibility to protect their practice from becoming an easy target for drug diversion. They need to know of the potential situations where drug diversion can occur, and establish safeguards to prevent drug diversion.
  • The dispensing pharmacist must maintain a constant vigilance against forged or altered prescriptions. The CSA holds the pharmacist responsible for knowingly dispensing a prescription that was not issued in the usual course of professional treatment.

Types of Fraudulent Prescriptions

Pharmacists should be aware of the various kinds of forged prescriptions that may be presented for dispensing. Some patients, in an effort to obtain additional amounts of legitimately prescribed drugs, alter the practitioner's prescription. They may have prescription pads printed using a legitimate doctor's name, but with a different call back number that is answered by an accomplice to verify the prescription. Drug seeking individuals may also call in their own prescriptions and give their own telephone number as a call-back for confirmation. Drug abusers sometimes steal legitimate prescription pads from practitioner's offices and/or hospitals and prescriptions are written using fictitious patient names and addresses.

In addition, individuals may go to emergency rooms complaining of pain in the hopes of receiving a controlled substance prescription. The prescription can then be altered or copied to be used again. Computers are often used to create prescriptions for nonexistent doctors or to copy legitimate doctors' prescriptions. The quantity of drugs prescribed and frequency of prescriptions filled are not lone indications of fraud or improper prescribing, especially if a patient is being treated with opioids for pain management. Pharmacists should also recognize that drug tolerance and physical dependence may develop as a consequence of a patient's sustained use of opioid analgesics for the legitimate treatment of chronic pain.

The following criteria may indicate that a prescription was not issued for a legitimate medical purpose:

  • The prescriber writes significantly more prescriptions (or in larger quantities) compared to other practitioners in the area.
  • The patient appears to be returning too frequently. A prescription which should last for a month in legitimate use is being refilled on a biweekly, weekly or even a daily basis.
  • The prescriber writes prescriptions for antagonistic drugs, such as depressants and stimulants, at the same time. Drug abusers often request prescriptions for "uppers and downers" at the same time.
  • The patient presents prescriptions written in the names of other people.
  • A number of people appear simultaneously, or within a short time, all bearing similar prescriptions from the same physician.
  • People who are not regular patrons or residents of the community, show up with prescriptions from the same physician.

 The following criteria may indicate a forged prescription:

  • Prescription looks "too good". The prescriber's handwriting is too legible.
  • Quantities, directions, or dosages differ from usual medical usage.
  • Prescription does not comply with the acceptable standard abbreviations or appears to be textbook presentations.
  • Prescription appears to be photocopied.
  • Directions are written in full with no abbreviations.
  • Prescription is written in different color inks or written in different handwriting.

Prevention Techniques

Know the prescriber and his/her signature.

Know the prescriber's DEA registration number.

Know the patient.

Check the date on the prescription order to determine if it has been presented in a reasonable length of time since being issued by the prescriber.

When there is a question about any aspect of the prescription order, the pharmacist should contact the prescriber for verification or clarification.

If at any time a pharmacist is in doubt, he /she should require proper identification. Although this procedure is not foolproof (identification papers can also be stolen/forged), it does increase the drug abuser's risk. If a pharmacist believes the prescription is forged or altered, he/she should not dispense it and call the local police. If a pharmacist believes he/she has discovered a pattern of prescription abuse, he/she should contact the state Board of Pharmacy or the local DEA Diversion Field Office (Appendix K). Both DEA and state authorities consider retail-level diversion a priority issue.

Proper Controls

Dispensing procedures without control and professional caution are an invitation to the drug abuser. Proper controls can be accomplished by following common sense, sound professional practice, and proper dispensing procedures. In addition, pharmacy staff should have knowledge of these safeguards, as it will help prevent and protect the pharmacy from becoming a source of diversion.

Most drug abusers seek out areas where communication and cooperation between health care professionals are minimal because it makes the drug abuser's work easier. Thus, a pharmacist should encourage other local pharmacists and physicians to develop a working relationship which will promote teamwork and camaraderie. In addition, the pharmacist should become familiar with those controlled substances that are popular for abuse and resale on the streets in the area and should discuss those findings with other pharmacists and practitioners in the community.

Pharmacist's Manual (PDF)

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