World news wrapup: 16 November 2017

German pharmacist accused of selling cancer drugs with no active ingredient; decriminalisation of dispensing errors moves forward in UK; and more…

Bottrop, Germany: A German pharmacist has faced court on charges relating to his sale of more than 62,000 doses of cancer medication which contained little or no active ingredient.

The pharmacist, who is not named in several European media outlets due to German privacy law, faces charges of conducting a €56 million fraud between 2012 and 2016, as well as 27 attempted manslaughter charges and breach of medication law charges.

Lawyers representing affected patients are pushing for the manslaughter charges to be upgraded to attempted murder.

Prosecutors claim that after a pharmacy laboratory technician inquired about substandard hygiene conditions in the pharmacy’s laboratory, and in investigating this uncovered inconsistencies between the chemical purchase accounts and revenue accounts.

He went to police with samples of the customised chemotherapy treatments, and it was discovered that the samples had no active ingredient, prosecutors allege.

After a raid on the pharmacy all but one of 29 cytostatic treatments were found to be incorrect, and of 117 custom preparations found, 66 were incorrect, they say.

Prosecutors have said that the pharmacist acted in “ice-cold pursuit of profit”.

Five former patients of the pharmacy have since died.

UK: The UK’s Parliament has heard amendments to the Medicines Act 1968 which would form a legal defence from criminal sanctions when pharmacists and their staff make dispensing errors.

Chemist + Druggist reports that the defence would relate to preparation and dispensing of medicines, and cover staff including registered pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and “persons supervised by them”.

The defence would apply if in the course of their profession, these workers sold or supplied a medicine “on the back of a prescription or patient group directive” and they “promptly” informed the patient about the error once it was spotted. Criminal sanctions would only apply if there was proof beyond reasonable doubt that the pharmacist misused their professional skills, or showed a “deliberate disregard for patient safety”.

Failing to follow a pharmacy’s standard procedures alone would not be considered a ground for sanctions.

The push for decriminalisation of dispensing errors has been a significant focus for pharmacy stakeholders in the UK in recent years, but efforts to amend the law have been “continually delayed,” C+D says.

Pharmacy stakeholders have welcomed the legislation having been laid before Parliament.


Ontario, Canada: The Ontario Pharmacists Association has released new data which shows that more than 70% of Ontario adults think patients should be able to access medicinal cannabis from pharmacists.

A majority of 56% also say that pharmacy is their preferred channel for the medication, the Toronto Sun reports.

Pharmacy is the preferred channel because Ontarians want counselling and advice as well as the medication, the data shows. However, they cannot currently access medicinal cannabis at pharmacies.

Jen Baker, an Ontario pharmacist and member of the Ontario Pharmacists Association board of directors, wrote in the Sun that “Ontario’s patients rely on their pharmacists to educate them on how medications can potentially interact with each other”.

“Pharmacists have access to a patient’s full medication history, know their allergies and serve as a patient’s last line of defence against harmful drug-to-drug interactions,” she writes.

“On this front, educating patients about potential interactions between medicinal cannabis and other medications should be a leading public policy objective.”


US: The Drug Enforcement Administration has collected a record number of unwanted medicines as part of its 14th Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

Americans brought the DEA and its local and tribal law enforcement partners a record 912,305 pounds – 413,815 kilos – of expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs for disposal.

The DEA says this is almost six tons more than the last event, which was held six months ago.

It says the event, now in its eighth year, is helping to address the opioid crisis by removing “ever-higher amounts of opioids and other medications” from homes where they may be stolen and misused.

“Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse,” the DEA says.

“Rates of prescription drug abuse in the US are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs.

“Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.”

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