(CBS) — More than 40 people a day die from prescription drug overdoses and now officials say a growing source of the drugs they abuse are pharmacy workers who have access to all kinds of drugs.
One former addict says that’s how she fed her habit.
At first she took one painkiller a day for pain following surgery. Then she became addicted and a year later was taking, “upwards to 100 pills a day.”
How could she function on a hundred pills a day?
“I couldn’t function without it,” the woman said. “I was supermom.”
She asked CBS 2 to conceal her identity but told us details about how she ran out of doctors who would give her prescriptions, then posed as a nurse ordering prescription until she got caught and arrested for identity theft. Finally she heard from another addict about a pharmacy worker who sold painkillers without requiring doctors’ prescriptions. All she had to do was call on the phone, place an order and pick it up the next day at the suburban pharmacy where he worked.
“He was my drug dealer,” she said.
Dennis Wichern, Chicago Agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, says prescription drug abuse is a huge problem and “causes more deaths than automobile accidents. He added, “There’s a price on the street for all these drugs” and a huge demand for them.”
Estimated costs on the street per pill are up to $20 for Hydrocodone, up to $80 for Oxycontin, and $600 a pint for Promethazine with Codeine.
The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation has disciplined 33 pharmacists and 163 pharmacy technicians over the last five years for diverting drugs for their use or to sell on the street.
“Diversion by technicians is one of the major issues that state boards of pharmacy are facing today,” said Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
Why? In part because Illinois like many other states does not check their criminal history before giving them a tech license with access to prescription drugs.
After police reported they saw Anthony Senese selling marijuana, he was arrested and wound up pleading guilty to a lesser charge of drug possession in 2003. He was sentenced to probation. Then in 2008 he received a pharmacy technician license from the state.
In 2014, while working at a Sam’s Club pharmacy in Evergreen Park, police say store cameras showed Senese entering the names of fake patients and real doctors and DEA numbers to steal 60,000 hydrocodone pills. He pleaded guilty to identity theft, was sentenced to probation. His pharmacy technician license was suspended.
CBS 2 investigative reporter Pam Zekman tried to talk with Senese about it the case and what he did with all the Hydrocodone.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Senese said.
In the case of Earl Newsome the state renewed his pharmacy technician license despite Newsome’s 2005 guilty plea to heroin possession with intent to deliver.
Then in 2011 Newsome was arrested for stealing 700,000 hydrocodone pills from Pharmore Drugs in Skokie. Law enforcement officials estimated the street value of those drugs at about $7 million. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. In 2012 the state revoked his pharmacy tech license. He declined to answer our questions.
The head of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy says the cases that actually result in disciplinary action are a fraction of the problem.
“In many cases when the pharmacy discovers that the tech has been diverting rather than prosecute the technician or call local authorities they simply fire the technician and the technician then goes to another pharmacy,” Catizone said. “And there’s no record what that technician was engaged in.”
Catizone said like many other states Illinois needs to pass a stronger screening law that includes criminal history checks on all applicants for pharmacy tech licenses. Now the state simply asks applicants if they have any criminal conviction and relies on self-reporting. Until a new law is passed a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation says there is nothing more it can do.