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Critics call for action on drug kickbacks

VANCOUVER – Health workers on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside say they have complained for years about drug addicts being offered kickbacks from pharmacists to fill their methadone prescriptions, a problem they say is getting worse.

“We all know about it. The clients know about it, we know about it, but it’s like it’s falling on deaf ears,” said Doreen Littlejohn, a nurse who works at the Vancouver Native Health Society. “We’re trying so hard to treat these people and we’re being undermined by poor pharmacy practices. I really think the province has to look at this issue.

“It’s all about money and it’s not about health. I find it morally repugnant.”

Methadone is given to addicts as a substitute for heroin. The cost is covered by the provincial drug plan, Pharmacare.

George Abbott, the provincial Health Minister, said Monday that officials are investigating the allegations. “We’ve been trying to get to the bottom of it to try and ascertain all the facts and evidence.”

Mr. Abbott said the allegation is that methadone users are given a small amount of cash so they will use a given pharmacy. The addicts get an instant payout and the pharmacies get a sustained flow of daily business.

But he said such deals are also strictly prohibited under the agreement in place between the pharmacies and the province.

The College of Pharmacists of B. C. is also conducting an investigation into the charges, said registrar Marshall Moleschi. He declined to give further details of the complaints, including what pharmacies are implicated.

But Ms. Littlejohn said the problem has worsened in the past six to nine months: Pharmacists are now openly soliciting patients to change their prescriptions in exchange for between $10 and $40 in cash.

This puts pressure on the clients to get the prescriptions, she said.

Some take other drugs to make it look like they need methadone when they do not.

“They want to be on it to gather the kickback and take the methadone and sell it,” Ms. Littlejohn said.

The dispensing of methadone for Pharmacare patients is a big business in B. C., worth $27-million a year in fees.

Pharmacies are given an $8.60 fee to dispense a daily dose of methadone, and an extra $7.70 to supervise the patients while they take the dose.

Adrian Dix, the NDP health critic, called the situation “completely outrageous and unacceptable,” and questioned why it has taken so long for the government and other authorities to respond.

“How many fees have been paid out since they were first informed of these problems, and what has the government actually done?” he said.
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source: The National Post

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