Department of Health

Prescription shoppers – scams used on pharmacists

Key messages

  • Be vigilant in looking out for scams.
  • Record all communications with prescribers.
  • Ask for identification if suspicions are aroused.
  • Examine prescriptions critically.

Most prescriptions will be from familiar prescribers or for typical quantities of a medicine. When presented with a prescription that is inconsistent with a pharmacist's experience, especially for medicines that are subject to misuse, abuse and profitable diversion, the pharmacist should attempt to determine why the prescription is atypical.

Pharmacists have legislative and professional responsibilities to assess whether it is safe, appropriate and lawful to dispense a prescription, and should not merely assume that all is well. The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 and its Regulations require pharmacists to take certain steps under specified circumstances, not only if they are suspicious.

Examples of prescription scams

Successful scams often involve patients who are well known to the pharmacy. In some of the following examples, pharmacists were prosecuted for failing to comply with their legislative responsibilities:

Computer generated prescriptions

  • One pharmacy dispensed more than 100 fraudulently altered computer-generated prescriptions (for as many as 75 morphine ampoules) that were presented by a person who was well known to the pharmacists. Prescribers are not authorised to make manual alterations to computer-generated prescriptions.
  • A group of offenders successfully presented fraudulent computer-generated prescriptions for large quantities of alprazolam, by printing their own phone numbers (instead of the phone number of the clinic) on each prescription, so that an associate could answer the phone to inform a pharmacist that the fraudulent prescription was genuine.  
  • A pharmacist dispensed a fraudulent computer-generated prescription on which the name of the  medicine was shown as ‘dextroamphetamine’.

PBS authorities

  • Multiple offenders have obtained large quantities of narcotic analgesics (e.g. 84 OxyContin 80mg tablets) by creating fraudulent PBS Authority prescriptions; presumably after containing Medicare Australia and obtaining telephone approval for the Authority prescription.  PBS Online does not provide evidence that a prescription is lawful.

Repeat forms

  • An offender, with a genuine PBS Authority prescription for 300 dexamphetamine with 5 repeats,  photocopied and manipulated repeat authorisation forms to successfully obtain 22 repeat supplies.

Testosterone and other anabolic steroids

  • A man obtained more than 800 injections of testosterone and nandrolone in a 3-month period, by presenting forged prescriptions at more than 30 pharmacies. The unusually large quantity was supposedly for an overseas trip.  Only three pharmacists refused to supply without being able to contact the purported prescriber.

Durogesic patches

  • A significant number of fraudulent prescriptions for Durogesic patches, which were purportedly issued by prescribers in another state, were dispensed (for 5, 10 or 15 patches) at numerous pharmacies by pharmacists who were unable to contact the prescribers. A small number of pharmacists supplied only a single patch until they were able to check with the prescriber.

Impersonating medical practitioners

  • A person successfully obtained pethidine injections from more than 20 pharmacies by phoning the pharmacy and claiming to be a local medical practitioner who would send the prescription during the following days.

Suggestions

Do not rely on PBS Online as evidence that a prescription is lawful

  • Fraudulent prescriptions, including PBS Authority prescriptions and repeat prescriptions, have frequently been dispensed by pharmacists who falsely believed that PBS Online would serve a function for which it is not intended.

Examine all prescriptions critically 

  • Spelling mistakes (or similar errors) on a prescription should raise a pharmacist’s suspicion; especially where a computer-generated prescription is involved
  • Prescribers must not make manual amendments to computer-generated prescriptions; any such amendments should be viewed with suspicion and the prescriber should be contacted.

Comparing prescribers' handwriting

  • Comparing a forged prescription with a similarly forged prescription, which was previously dispensed at the pharmacy is unlikely to reveal a forgery. Some pharmacies retain filed copies of prescriptions, which have been confirmed by prescribers, for comparison purposes.

Contemporaneous notes of communications with prescribers

  • Recording all communications with prescribers (and unsuccessful attempts to contact a prescriber) makes it less likely that a colleague will falsely assume that such a communication has occurred.

Ask for identification

  • Many offenders create fraudulent prescriptions using a false name or another person’s name. When asked to provide identification, the response or excuses offered can fuel an existing suspicion. If an appropriate form of photo identification is provided, it can serve to subsequently identify an offender.

Be aware of stolen and forged prescriptions

  • Many offenders attend pharmacies at times when it is difficult to contact prescribers. The department’s website contains frequently updated details of practitioners whose names have been associated with forged and stolen prescriptions.  It is recommended that pharmacies have the relevant web page bookmarked so that it can be quickly referenced.

Reviewed 19 November 2021

Health.vic

Contact details

Postal address: Medicines and Poisons Regulation Department of Health GPO Box 4057 Melbourne VIC 3001

Medicines and Poisons Regulation Department of Health

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