Did you happen to catch a news story that came out last month about a retired Indiana pharmacist who was arrested for working without a current license for the past 17 years? It turns out that Indiana issued him a license in 1981, but the license expired in June 1990. For the next 17 years he worked in a variety of pharmacy positions, including a four-year stint at one of this nation's largest drug chains.
Thankfully, the prosecutor in the county where the pharmacist was charged with five felony counts of practicing pharmacy without a license said there was no evidence that he practiced the profession of pharmacy poorly. How did he get caught? Police were investigating a nurse over some allegedly fraudulent prescriptions and the trail led back to the pharmacist who filled the prescriptions. According to the story, the fact that he may or may not have filled a fraudulent prescription was not called into question; but the issue of not having a valid license was quite another matter. The sketchy background information offered in the story revealed that this pharmacist had passed a routine state inspection by altering the pocket-card version of his license.
While this may be an isolated incident and there are probably many details about this case that are unknown to me, it brings into question all kinds of issues related to the licensing of pharmacists in general. For example, did he complete the required number of continuing education credits required in Indiana? (Indiana requires 30 hours of pharmacy CE every two years with certain restrictions on which CE topics are admissible for relicensure). Several states have opted out of requiring pharmacists to send in CE certificates of completion in lieu of an "honor system" and random audits. I suppose this is being done largely due to budget constraints. Also, did the board of pharmacy or licensing bureau try to contact this pharmacist when he did not renew his license? There are any number of initiatives that state boards of pharmacy and licensing centers can do to flag and follow up on pharmacists who do not renew their licenses; but in the final analysis this is a daunting task and, I believe, a waste of manpower.
I am certain of one thing: once the story of this pharmacist surfaced, the blame game went into full swing. Whose responsibility is it to make sure the pharmacist working for you is properly licensed? Without question, I believe the onus falls squarely on the employer's shoulders. It is incumbent on all employers to do a thorough background check on every prospective employee, including pharmacists. This includes a call to the board of pharmacy to see if a pharmacist's license is up to date or if there are any outstanding violations against the pharmacist.
And as long as we are playing the blame game, one could make a case that the pharmacist shortage is really to blame for this oversight. In some areas of this country employers are so eager to hire pharmacists that they do not invest in conducting background checks. In this instance, as far as we know from the news accounts, this pharmacist did not make any serious or fatal errors. If he had, you can bet that the blame game would go into overtime trying to figure out the malpractice legalities and liability of whoever was at fault.
The news item made me wonder how many pharmacists are currently working with expired licenses. Worse yet, how many pharmacists are working with suspended or revoked licenses? If it hadn't been for the police investigation, this unlicensed pharmacist could have conceivably gone undetected forever. It is time that everyone involved in licensing and hiring pharmacists take responsibility for their own actions so we don't have a repeat of this kind of story.
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