The case involved a nurse who falsified and altered 42 patient prescriptions to divert oxycodone, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The nurse later committed suicide.
The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has agreed to pay $250,000 and enact prescription-drug safeguards to settle a federal fraud investigation involving a former employee’s theft of more than 96,000 oxycodone pills between 2011 and 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday.
The case involved a nurse who falsified and altered prescriptions for 42 patients to divert painkillers from Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s (SCCA) pharmacy. After SCCA officials discovered the scheme, they fired the nurse and reported the fraud to federal authorities.
The unidentified nurse later committed suicide, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
“This case reflects the Justice Department’s commitment to use all of the enforcement tools at our disposal to ensure that highly abused substances are provided to patients under the supervision of their doctors and not leaked to the illicit drug trade,” Helen J. Brunner, first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement announcing the settlement.
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None of the stolen pills were recovered, Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, said in an email Thursday. The estimated street value for the stolen medication is about $1.4 million, or about $15 per pill, she said.
Authorities say the nurse’s scheme unraveled in 2013, after a former SCCA patient received a legitimate painkiller prescription for an unrelated job injury.
The state Department of Labor & Industries denied the patient’s claim because the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program showed the patient was receiving pain medication from SCCA. After the patient disputed that, L&I notified the cancer center, which discovered the fraud.
Justice Department and federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigators later determined SCCA pharmacists violated the Controlled Substances Act by failing to verify that the painkillers were prescribed appropriately before dispensing them to the nurse, according the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Under the settlement, SCCA admits no legal wrongdoing but will pay $250,000 to the federal government. The center also agreed to require its pharmacists to consult with prescribers or take other reasonable steps to confirm patient prescriptions, and it will report the nurse’s fraud in center records for each patient whose identity was used to garner false prescriptions.
SCCA, a nationally recognized outpatient cancer treatment and research center, issued a statement Thursday that in part denied its pharmacists were at fault.
“While we believe the settlement is in the best interests of our patients, staff, pharmacists and physicians, we do not agree with the conclusions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office that our pharmacists or pharmacy violated the law,” the center’s statement said.
The statement added that the accused nurse perpetrated “a complex drug-diversion scheme” that deceived numerous SCCA staff members. The cancer center declined to identify the late nurse Thursday.
“The patients, physicians, pharmacists, and pharmacy staff were victims of (the) scheme,” the statement said. “Although no medications were diverted from patients, the SCCA notified each patient whose identity was used.”
In the course of its internal probe of the matter, SCCA consulted with national experts and examined its own procedures and processes. The center has made several improvements to prevent similar prescription fraud from occurring in the future, the statement said.