THE FACE OF PHARMACY

March has arrived and once again we get to celebrate Pharmacist Awareness Month; some believe it’s a bit over the top that we need a whole month?

“March is Pharmacist Awareness Month (PAM) — the perfect time to celebrate pharmacists’ expertise and the important role they play in delivering quality care to patients!”

The quotation above is taken straight from the OPA web site.  Pharmacists and patients are encouraged to “rethink pharmacy”.  The message emphasizes that pharmacists play an “invaluable role”, an “important role” in quality healthcare delivery.  If pharmacists play such an important role, how come we have to keep telling people about it?  Over and over again pharmacy appears to be proselytising its own importance to an indifferent audience.  Certainly there appears to be a reluctance to actually pay real money for these “important services” by governments or by patients themselves.

What an irony then that, almost timed by design, the Toronto Star and Global News should publish the results of an extensive investigation into widespread fraud by pharmacists in the Greater Toronto Area.  And we are not talking pennies here, we are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars and in some cases millions.  The journalism piece names names and shows pictures of the pharmacists involved.  We can see their faces and see where they live, in the mansions that they presumably bought with the stolen money.

On three successive evenings, Global News methodically reviewed the intricate ways that “crooked pharmacists” and “pharmacist fraudsters” have stolen money from the Ministry of Health, Ontario Drug Benefit Program with wanton abandon.  Often with little shame, these individuals’ defense is “depression” or “it wasn’t me, it was the hired help” or “my husband wasn’t working, and I had four kids at home”

This stuff is excruciating to watch. The clear suggestion by the investigation is that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The ODB is not set up as a forensic agency, it is set up as a payer for goods and services, largely based on an honour system.  This means it is wide open to abuse by “unscrupulous pharmacists”.  Where are the often quoted “most trusted, most accessible” professionals?

The other message/suggestion in the investigation is that the Ontario regulatory body, the OCP, is real soft on these individuals, and although they are found guilty of professional misconduct, these bad apples are largely fined and lose their licenses for a year or so.  Eventually they all get their licences back and presumably go back to their criminal ways.  No one goes to jail.

How come a punk who robs a convenience store for $100 to buy drugs spends six months in prison, but a “healthcare professional” can rob the public purse of a million or two and gets only a slap on the wrist?

Interestingly the OCP was never interviewed for this investigation.  As usual, the solemn OCP brown stone mansion on Huron Street in Toronto is shown, front door shut but not a person in sight.  Likely privacy is sighted as the reason for silence.  Yet it is this body that licensed these individuals in the first place, and it is this same body that allows them to return to practice and own a pharmacy after a relatively short period of atonement.  What assurances does the OCP have that these individuals will not re offend?  Why are they not barred from the profession for life… right across the country?  How come some of these perpetrators once actually sat on OCP council?

Pharmacy has been around for a long time.  This ‘problem’ appears to have reared its ugly head to this degree in more recent times.  Where’s the variable and where’s the constant?  The OCP is now raising pharmacist annual registration fees by 20% to help cover costs of more intensive investigations into professional misconduct?  So the ‘good guys’ have to pay for the sins of ‘the bad guys’.

Unfortunately, the faces of these people become the faces of pharmacy.  This may not be fair or even accurate, but these are the faces that millions of viewers see and lay judgement on.  The power the media has to make a specific statement is considerable.  Those that don’t like the message sometimes call this “fake news”.

The fact is that the story is not about pharmacists, it’s about pharmacy owners, who in the cases of the examples given, happened to be pharmacists.   So were they crooks who became pharmacists, or pharmacists who became crooks?  The distinction is an important one.

But it is hard to deny the ‘truth’ when you can see the guy standing in the doorway of his house, in his underwear, and you can look him straight in the face.

Pharmacy certainly has an image problem.  How unfair for all the regular pharmacists who toil in the trenches day after day for reduced compensation and under terrible working conditions, not to mention the new innocent grads about to enter the meat grinder.

Too bad it’s all happening during Pharmacist Awareness Month.   How about we shorten it to a week?

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “THE FACE OF PHARMACY

  1. Too bad it’s all happening during Pharmacist Awareness Month. How about we shorten it to a week?

    Personally I fell it should be cancelled.
    Even though I know the vast community of pharmacists are honest and have a great deal of intregrity , I was incensed by the tv coverage. At one point I found myself defending the profession to my family members .
    But I am totally retired and glad to be out of the retail grind.

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  2. I have no tolerance for any pharmacy or pharmacist that uses fraudulent practices to line their pockets. I applaud the job that The Toronto Star and Global News have done. Why should any honest pharmacists want this information swept under the rug?

    What I cannot understand is why OCP ever allows these people to practice as a pharmacist or ever own a pharmacy in Ontario again. Especially after they were convicted by the courts and/or the licensing bodies.

    What I am really bothered about is how the public ( tax payers ) allow or do not raise the red flags about how deeply flawed the Ontario Drug Benefit payment system is! I am sure a number of past Ontario Auditor General’s reports have mentioned issues with this program.

    I have worked with private payer’s drug plans since 1995 and fraudulent claim detection is one of the areas where being a pharmacist with clinical knowledge about drug utilization was really critical.

    The Ontario Drug Benefit program has a massive drug claim database. Patterns of abuse or unusual claim patterns should be picked up as part of their standard operational procedures. It does not take much imagination how much tax payer money is really wasted by this lack of oversight or glitch!

    These pharmacies had to have submitted massive amounts of bogus drug claims. This especially had to be true considering the lavish lifestyles this investigation showed. Submitting a few false drug claims certainly would not boost their incomes to those levels. Did these folks claim this as income and pay the proper taxes on it? One has to wonder!

    Any decent drug utilization review program should have shown some very unusual patterns. But you would need the proper reporting system and knowledgeable staffing to pick these up and take appropriate action.

    What this exposé did demonstrate is a deeply flawed ODB program that numerous past and present provincial governments ignored for years. That is the real crime perpetrated on the tax paying public!

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    • Back in the mid-90s, the Canada Revenue Agency ran an operation called “Project Pharmacy.” They first used the OCP to advertise to pharmacists, that if they had failed to declare any income they ought to have, they could come forward and do so, pay the amounts “ripped off” and avoid any penalty/prosecution beyond that. The caveat: if CRA had already started an investigation into you, it was too late. (I guess you’d know when they refused your confession).

      Of course, there were those that thought they could “beat it.” But in the end, it became very clear that CRA advised everyone that in the end, it would cost you $3 for every $1 you stole. That had an impact.

      One wonders: in the case of these offenders to date, has CRA been made aware of them? Because you can bet that if they were, there’d be even further fallout from these actions ongoing. Perhaps we should all do the “ethical” thing and contact local offices to make sure they are aware of the press stories run to date; I doubt the OCP has cross-notified CRA on their cases.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sick and tired of all of this. Removal of self-regulation of pharmacists is the future. True – the government doesn’t know what pharmacists do – but that’s the price to pay to clean up our profession

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