Rogue Ontario Pharmacists Dealing Opioids
An investigation conducted by Global, the Toronto Star, and the Ryerson Journalism department has uncovered hundreds of Ontario pharmacists dealing opioids and other drugs from their stores. The provincial government has monitors that oversee the prescribing and dispensing of opioids but no pharmacist has been caught drug dealing as a result of these monitors in the last five years.
The investigation analyzed disciplinary records from the Ontario College of Pharmacists from 2013 to 2017. It found 241 pharmacists responsible for distributing huge and lethal amounts of opioids to the streets, defrauding provincial drug plans, sexual harassment of patients and employees, and fatal dispensing errors. During the time period in question, just 15 pharmacists were sanctioned by the College for illegal dealing of prescription medication. “Nearly 3.5 million doses of prescription drugs disappeared from Ontario pharmacies from 2013 to 2017, the data shows. And the growth is startling: from about 2, 200 reports of drug losses in 2013 to more than 30, 000 last year.” Three-quarters of the drug loss reports list the reason for the loss as “unexplained”.
Dr. David Juurlink, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Toronto, said that many people who have an opioid addiction began with experimenting with a pill that was prescribed to someone else. Therefore, while most opioid deaths are due to illegal fentanyl, those people often started using legal forms of opioids like prescription hydromorphone. One convicted Ontario pharmacist was found to have trafficked more than 5000 fentanyl patches worth more than $1 million dollars on the street. Another convicted Ontario pharmacist had forged prescriptions for dead people to cover his tracks.
Yet the role pharmacists have to play in alleviating the opioid crisis has not been looked at by the provincial government. Allan Malek, executive vice-president of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, sits on the Ministry of Health’s opioid emergency task force. He says there has been no concerns or discussion of pharmacists who deal and traffic drugs. Drug wholesalers are not required to report suspiciously large opioid orders. The Narcotics Monitoring System (NMS) was introduced in 2012 to identify and reduce the misuse and diversion of monitored drugs. It has not caught a single errant pharmacist. The Health Ministry spokesperson said the NMS was not established to proactively detect diversion or criminal activity. This clearly conflicts with the mission statement the NMS itself has, and shows the provincial government trying to deflect blame for not catching these problems sooner.