Emory University Hospital Midtown’s pharmacy has been placed on probation by the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy for an employee drug diversion scheme that allowed millions of doses of opiates and other addictive drugs to be stolen over a a five-year period.
Stolen drugs included 1.2 million doses of hydrocodone with acetaminophen, an opioid painkiller; 400,000 doses of alprazolam, trade name Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety; and 110 gallons of promethazine with codeine, which is a cough syrup with an added opioid, according to the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency. Promethazine with codeine can be combined with soda and Jolly Ranchers to make “purple drank,” a drink which is then sipped until euphoria and dissociation occur, according to Narconon.
Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency Executive Director Rick Allen hypothesized that these drugs may have contributed significantly to the illegal prescription drug trade in the region.
“[Thefts like this have] happened before, but not at this volume,” said Allen, a 40-year veteran of the agency. “We’ve had this happen at various places around the whole state, but not this quantity.”
According to the Georgia Board of Pharmacy consent order, the Emory Midtown hospital “suffered significant financial losses due to the employees’ illegal thefts/diversion scheme.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) estimated the losses to be between $20 million and $40 million.
“They should have known,” Allen told the AJC. “You’re talking a massive amount of drugs out there. It boggles the mind.”
The scheme was discovered only when Emory Midtown changed its financial accounting system in 2013. Emory Healthcare, having noticed spending discrepancies, reached out to the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency for an investigation.
The thieves exploited a weakness in the security protocol surrounding purchase of prescription drugs, masking illegal orders with legitimate ones, Allen told the AJC.
“If they’ve been doing this for a five years [sic] period — wow, they probably made quite a bit of money,” Executive Director of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators Charlie Cichon told the AJC.
Two pharmacy technicians have since been fired for the thefts but Allen suspects at least three employees and other members of the administration may have been involved, based on his investigation so far.
Representatives from Emory Midtown had not responded to inquiries from the Wheel as of press time.
Regardless, Allen said the investigation has become less proactive recently.
“We’re waiting on the prosecutor’s office to talk to us to see what they need – if we need to do more or if they have enough to make a decision,” Allen said.
The Office of the Fulton County District Attorney did not respond to inquiries from the Wheel as of press time.