A Forged Prescription!

This New Year begins with fresh hope for all that’s possible in the days, weeks and months ahead; but I’d like to take a moment to share an unusual, yet true story that happened to me in the past.

Many years ago, while working on my advanced degree, I earned a living as aMH900321056 pharmacist on the “graveyard shift” of a 24-hour retail pharmacy located near a major medical center.  Seven area hospitals, each with an emergency room, provided a dribble of patients needing a variety of prescriptions filled in the dead of night.

I enjoyed the relative quiet of that shift, an ideal setting to both make money and yet have time to study and plan my clinical research.  Secretly, however, I always worried about the sinister side of working such a shift—would I be robbed at gunpoint for money, for the narcotics locked in the medical safe, or for both—and would I survive such an event or become yet another victim of a senseless shooting.

The prescription counter, as is usual, was situated at the rear of the store and elevated about a foot above the retail floor space.  That provided me with a panoramic view of the retail area and anyone entering the store.

One night I observed a twenty-something white male enter.  He was dressed in oversized jeans, a hoodie and a baseball cap worn backwards.  He looked around, spotted the prescription counter with me behind it and shuffled toward me.  I thought it odd that he looked down every aisle before approaching the pharmacy.  The acid started churning in my stomach.  It inched up my esophagus as I thought, “This is it.  I’m about to be robbed.”

He walked up to the prescription counter, smiled and merely stood there.  I looked at his hands for a possible gun, or a least a note demanding the store’s cash, or worse yet, all the narcotics.  Instead, he simply stood there and smiled.  I hesitated for as long as I dared, then squared my shoulders and walked toward him.  I made sure to position myself behind the cash register, the only barrier within sight.

He smiled again and handed me a prescription.  He asked, “Can I wait for this? I’m really in pain.”  I exhaled audibly, but intelligent words failed me.  I looked down at the prescription.  It was written on one of the local hospital prescription pads.  I even recognized the doctor’s signature since I usually got several prescriptions a week from the emergency room staff of this particular hospital.

I swallowed down the acid, took a deep breath and managed to say, “Have a seat.  I’ll have it out in about ten minutes.”  I then walked away to process the prescription.

As I studied the paper, acid starting its upward climb again when I realized the prescription had been altered.  The order was written for Vicodin 10mg tablets, a popular pain-relieving drug containing the narcotic hydrocodone.  It was a prescription I’d often filled as a result of patients’ overnight emergency room visits.

What was unusual about this order was the quantity—an obvious one had been added in front of the originally ordered twenty. The change to one hundred and twenty tablets was subtle, but the ink was not quite a match to the ink on the remainder of the written prescription.

I knew I was holding a forged prescription!  My first thought was that I had to verify that the prescribing doctor had not had second thoughts and MH900409668sloppily added to the original quantity.  I didn’t believe that to be the case, but I had to verify before moving on to the next step.  I called the emergency room and verified that only the twenty tablets had been ordered.  The prescribing doctor gave me a verbal order to cancel the prescription and take further action.

I disconnected, looked toward the patient waiting area and found the person staring back at me.  I smiled, he smiled and I could taste bile mixing with freshly churned acid.  I moved to my computer terminal and pretended to process the prescription.  I stopped abruptly, as if a call had just come in, and answered a dead line.  I slowly dialed 911 and reported a forged prescription and requested immediate assistance from the nearest police cruiser in the area.  I was told to stall the customer and that help would arrive in five minutes.

I hung up the phone and looked again at the forger.  He stared at me and smiled.  I smiled back and again tucked my head down over my computer terminal as I occasionally glanced at the front door, hoping to see a blue uniform move through the doorframe.

After what seemed like hours instead of minutes, the front door to the pharmacy slowly opened and a blue uniformed officer quietly slipped in and proceeded toward the pharmacy.  He moved around the perimeter of the store from my left.  I looked toward the customer waiting area and almost didn’t believe what I saw next.

The forger was sticking his arm in the complimentary blood pressure machine.  He pressed the start button and the automatic cuff inflated around his upper arm.  I looked to my left and saw the police officer, with gun drawn, round the corner and head toward the prescription counter.  The officer and I made eye contact and I nodded toward the blood pressure machine to my right.

The officer approached slowly and quietly.  When he was about ten feet from the forger, the man spotted the officer and stood abruptly, presumably to run from the store.  But his arm was locked in the blood pressure cuff and he was pulled back into a sitting position, a sitting duck waiting to be apprehended.

I breathed a sigh of relief while the officer smiled and shook his head.  The forger shook his head also, but looked down with a very disheartened expression on his face.  The officer disengaged the accused from the machine, read him his rights and cuffed him.  I walked up and showed the officer the forged prescription.  I confirmed that I had verified it had been altered before I called for assistance.

The officer took the prescription into evidence, asked me a few clarifying questions, confirmed that I may be needed to testify if the case went to trial and then led the handcuffed man out of the store and into the back of the squad car.

The rest of that night shift was reasonably quiet with only a few other patients filtering in occasionally.  But, needless to say, my concentration was broken and I got no studying done for the rest of that night.

I was never called to testify and assume that the man agreed to a plea deal, or had a good lawyer that got him off.  Either way, I had a “good citizen feeling” about helping catch the guy.  But from that point forward, I always took a few extra minutes to study those emergency room prescriptions for accuracy before processing them.

Thoughts?  Comments?  I’d love to hear them!

This year I want to “pass it forward” by ending my blogs with a shout out to some of my writer friends and ask that you take a moment to stop by their blogs and websites also.  This week check out: 

http://www.martachausee.blogspot.com/

http://seumasgallacher.com/

http://rgreyhoover.com/

http://wealdfaejournals.wordpress.com/

http://thomasrydder.wordpress.com/

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
This entry was posted in About James J. Murray, About Medications/Pharmacy, Drug Misadventures, Forged Prescriptions, Prescription Forgers, The Pharmacy Profession, The Practice of Pharmacy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to A Forged Prescription!

  1. Jim,
    One of those incidents that are a lot more fun in the telling than they were at the time? More critical to everyone’s health and welfare, it is yet another reason for electronic medical records in general and computer generated or, better yet, computer transmitted prescriptions. Most pharmacists would not have paid as much attention to the hand-written form as you did. Hand-written script forms are prone to error: hard to read doctor’s handwriting can lead to accidentally giving the wrong drug or wrong strength or, as in your case, deliberate forgeries. A computer printed or network delivered prescription is easier to read, much more likely to be properly filled, and almost impossible to forge. We have the technology today, and some pharmacies are using it, to scan the bar code on the pharmacy’s drug supply bottle during the filling process. The in-store computer will yell if it doesn’t match the script in name or dosage, and at the same time check for the possibilities of interactions with other drugs taken by the same patient in the store’s (or chain’s) records.

    Clearly you learned early the importance of paying attention to insure the proper medications are delivered.

    Thanks for the story.
    Walt.

  2. Yes, Walt, information technology certainly has advanced in the practice of pharmacy and these kinds of misadventures fortunately are more rare these days thanks to advances in computer technology and electronic medical records. Thanks for commenting about how far we’ve come in to protect the public.

  3. James — A great story, well written! Thanks for sharing. Thank you also for the great idea of ‘paying it forward’ with links to other’s websites at the end of each post. May I have your permission to adopt the idea on my blog? I will credit you, or course.
    James

  4. Hi, James. Yes, please feel free to “pay it forward”. I’ll make sure you’re in my next list!! All the best.

  5. Pauline says:

    Well James, if this an indication of your writing style you will do very well! I was totally engaged from the start by the story. In my non-fiction book there is an inquest (1877) at which a Hastings pharmacist was unfairly blamed for a young woman’s suspicious death by ABC liniment. Thankfully the coroner was a sensible man!

  6. Nissie says:

    I saw many forged prescriptions over the years. One guy even added refills to his Valium script with a crayon! The worst one, for me, was a couple who came in with a Vicodin prescription and had changed it to Vicodin ES. The police was called and when they searched the car, they had a baby with them and the car was full of drugs. CPS came and took the child and the couple arrested. While I didn’t mind the arrest, my heart broke for that baby boy.

  7. Chip Chipperson says:

    You should have just sent him away with a warning. Do you consider yourself some sort of hero by having an addict locked up? Congrats on creating another statistic.

    • No, Chip, not a hero – I was just following my pharmacy ethics since prescription forgery is a federal offense. Thanks for your comments. They’re always appreciated.

      • Samaria says:

        While I understand your duties, I find myself almost sympathizing with the addict. I’ve been in situations where I knew I was in pain and I knew what worked and doctors just refused to prescribe me what I knew was my only option. Its frustrating as a patient dealing with overly apprehensive ans nervous doctors. Yes, what he did was a crime and he should take responsibility, but you getting him arrested won’t help the actual issue he has. I wish doctors, pharmicists and the DEA had more understanding as to what us patients are dealing with. You seem to gloat over the fact that you had someone jailed and life ruined. When he probably needs help.

      • Samaria, your comments are very interesting and a viewpoint from a different perspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reminding us of the frustrations of those who suffer from chronic pain. As I evolved into clinical pharmacy practice later in life, I became part of a team that worked with patients dealing with lifelong pain issues. At times, the options can be very limited.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s