World news wrapup: 6 February 2020

codeine tabsules spill from orange pill bottle

Doubt over proposal to fast-track pharmacists as doctors; pharmacist loses licence permanently after allegedly ignoring “red flags;” Walgreens settles civil suit over fake pharmacist

UK: Pharmacists could be offered “fast-track” training to become doctors, reports The Times, as the UK attempts to address a possible shortage of doctors following Brexit at the end of January.

After the UK left the European Union, it may re-examine the requirements for individuals to practise as doctors, the paper suggests, as it would no longer be bound by the EU requirement of a five or six-year medical degree.

Paramedics may also be able to access such a “fast track” process.

Pharmacy publication Chemist+Druggist attempted to gain confirmation from the Department of Health and Social Care, which did not comment – though it said more information would be offered “if and when plans develop”.

C+D reports that such a move would likely increase the pressure on the pharmacy sector, exacerbating existing shortages of pharmacists.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley said that there was already a demand for 6000 new pharmacists to fill primary care network places, and that the NHS was already “struggling to recruit into new roles quickly enough”.

She also said that pharmacists were proud of their current roles and that recognition of the role pharmacists play in multidisciplinary teams is already growing.


Raleigh, North Carolina: A pharmacist has been told to permanently cease dispensing opioids and other controlled substances, and to pay US$600,000 (AUD$889,920) in civil penalties, the US Department of Justice has said in a statement.

Robert L Crocker, the owner and pharmacist in charge of Farmville Discount Drug Inc, has also been directed to surrender his licence to practice pharmacy – and never seek its renewal.

Farmville Discount Drug is also to permanently surrender its registration with the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The United States had filed a complaint alleging that Mr Crocker and the pharmacy had repeatedly filled scripts for controlled substances including opioids in violation of legislation – allegedly ignoring well-known “red flags” of drug diversion and drug-seeking behaviour.

These prescriptions often involved well-known, highly addictive, and highly abused painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and methadone, along with other “potentiator” drugs — drugs that heighten the euphoric effects of opioids, like diazepam (i.e., Valium), alprazolam (i.e., Xanax), and zolpidem (i.e., Ambien), the Department said.

It listed red flags as filling scrips for “dangerous, highly-abused” prescription drug “cocktails” for long-distance patients who saw a doctor an hour away, and lived an hour away; filling hundreds of opioid scripts for multiple members of the same family; and filling scripts for a prescriber Mr Crocker knew had been cut off from other pharmacies.

The pharmacy also filled controlled substance prescriptions for patients who visited multiple doctors or pharmacies.

“The complaint also asserts that when other employees expressed concern to Crocker about Farmville Discount Drug’s practices, he dismissed them, allegedly saying that if a doctor wrote the prescription, the pharmacy would fill it,” the Department of Justice stated.

While Mr Crocker and the business had not admitted to these allegations, the parties agreed to resolve the case without further litigation.


Alameda County, California: Walgreens has settled a consumer protection lawsuit after it was alleged that stores in Fremont, Milpitas and San Jose permitted Kim Thien Lee to impersonate a pharmacist and perform a pharmacist’s duties.

Mercury News reports that Walgreens has agreed to settle the suit for US$7.5 million (AUD$11,124,000).

The charges against Ms Le alleged that between 1 November 2006 and 5 September 2017, she committed multiple felonies, and dispensed more than 745,000 prescriptions – more than 100,000 of which included highly-regulated controlled medicines such as fentanyl and oxycodone.

It was also alleged that she had never been registered as a pharmacist and thus was not legally allowed to dispense the scripts.

“Walgreens failed to vet Ms. Le thoroughly when it promoted her to positions requiring a license and failed to make sure that its internal systems were strong enough to prevent an employee from evading them,” said a statement from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Tiyen Lin also made a statement, saying that “Consumers depend on pharmacies to make sure that the person behind the counter preparing and giving out medical prescription drugs is trained, competent and licensed to do so”.

After Ms Le’s employment was terminated in October 2017, Walgreens “undertook a re-verification of the licenses of all our pharmacists nationwide,” a spokesman for the chain told Mercury News.

Guntur, India: A pharmacist has been arrested and is alleged to be a ringleader in an attack on an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Medical Dialogues reports that the pharmacist allegedly planned the attack after the doctor, who was leasing the premises to the pharmacist, declined to extend the lease.

The pharmacist, with a group of friends, is accused of having “gheraoed” the doctor – encircling him and preventing him from leaving the premises – then forcing him to drink alcohol, assaulting him and threatening him with physical injury if he did not agree to extend the lease.

The doctor was also allegedly forced to sign documents attesting that he owed money to the pharmacist.

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