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Prescription Fraud

NCJ Number
Julie Wartell; Nancy G. La Vigne
Date Published
May 2004
68 pages
After profiling the problem of prescription fraud, this booklet reviews the factors that increase the risks of it, presents questions to help communities analyze the local problem, and reviews the nature and effectiveness of police responses to the problem.
"Prescription fraud," which falls under the broader heading of "pharmaceutical diversion," is defined in this guide as the "illegal acquisition of prescription drugs for personal use or profit." This definition excludes theft, burglary, "backdoor" pharmacies, and illegal importation or distribution of prescription drugs. Although prescription fraud is common throughout the United States, its prevalence varies across jurisdictions, often due to trends in specific types of drugs popular in different regions. Nationwide in 1993, people spent an estimated $25 billion on prescription drugs in the illegal market, compared with $31 billion on cocaine, including crack. Methods for committing prescription fraud include the forging of prescriptions, going to several doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions, and altering prescriptions to increase the quantity. A significant amount of prescription fraud is undetected, because it is not a high police priority. The prescription drugs most often involved in fraud include Valium and Vicodin as well as Xanax, OxyContin, Lorcet, Dilaudid, Percocet, Soma, Darvocet, and morphine. The offenders span a wide range of ethnic, social, educational, and economic backgrounds. The questions posed by this guide for use in analyzing a local problem focus on the nature of the victimization, offender characteristics, and locations and times. Guidance is provided for capturing and analyzing data and measuring effectiveness. The general requirements for an effective strategy involve coordinated appropriate actions by the police, health-care providers, and pharmacists. Specific recommendations are to inform doctors and pharmacists of fraudulent activity, improve pharmacists' screening of prescriptions and patients, educate the public about prescription abuse and fraud, verify prescriptions, use security measures, prescribe drugs electronically, create or change laws regarding prescription fraud, and maintain a prescription monitoring program. 51 notes, 40 references, and appended summary of responses to prescription fraud