When someone is dealing with an injury, recovering from surgery or facing the suffering of a lingering disease, finding relief from the pain is often the only way for them to maintain any quality of life. You may feel that one of the most fulfilling parts of your job as a pharmacist is providing that pain relief by filling their prescriptions.
You likely have a strict protocol to follow when you have a prescription for painkillers to fill for a patient. In most cases, the prescriptions are legitimate, and you fill them without an issue. Nevertheless, federal regulations state that any responsibility that falls on a physician for prescribing opioids for illegitimate use may also fall on those who fill the prescriptions. In fact, you may find yourself facing criminal charges and the loss of your pharmacy license if authorities believe you knowingly cooperated with unlawful distribution of opioid painkillers.
Proactivity means careful documentation
How can you protect yourself and your license? Some pharmacy advocates recommend you take the following proactive steps:
- Confirm with a doctor the diagnosis of any patient with an opioid prescription.
- Document your confirmation.
- Ask the patient to confirm the diagnosis, and document that as well.
- Search the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s integrated prescription monitoring program to see if the patient has obtained duplicate prescriptions in other pharmacies or across state lines.
- Verify whether the patient is filling the prescription early, indicating he or she may be overmedicating.
- Contact the prescribing physician if the dosage seems too high.
- Document every action you take to verify the validity of an opioid prescription.
You will also notice factors that raise suspicion, such as if the patient has traveled an unusual distance to your pharmacy or is paying cash for the pills. If the patient is taking other frequently abused medications, such as muscle relaxants, sedatives or anti-anxiety medications, you may wish to consult with the physician.
Your pharmacy may also consider establishing policies for handling opioid prescriptions; for example, requiring pharmacists to discuss the risks involved for patients who are seeking doses of opioids above the average for those who are not suffering from cancer. The more checks and balances you have in place, the less likely you will unwittingly participate in the unlawful dispensing of opioids.
Facing such accusations can jeopardize your career, your freedom and your future. You do not have to fight for your vindication on your own. An attorney with experience assisting medical professionals in protecting their licenses may benefit your cause.