Virginia Pharmacist Pleads Guilty to Federal Drug Charges

A pharmacist who worked in Saltville, Virginia pleaded guilty in federal court on June 1 to one count of obtaining drugs by fraud and one count of using the registration number of another in the course of acquiring a controlled substance.

Ryan Lowry Patrick allegedly filled prescriptions in the names of at least five different dogs connected to his girlfriend’s veterinary clinic. Patrick is scheduled to be sentenced in August and faces up to four years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

“We place great trust in our pharmacists to ensure that controlled substances are carefully and properly dispensed. When they break this trust and divert pharmaceutical drugs for illegal purposes, the cycle of addiction continues, with all of its harms,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar.  “We will continue to tirelessly prosecute anyone who participates in the opioid crisis.”

An investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) uncovered that Patrick was filling multiple prescriptions in the names of five dogs that belonged to Patrick and his girlfriend for his own use. The prescriptions were written by a veterinarian who worked at the veterinary clinic operated by Bailey’s girlfriend.

The DEA made use of Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) to confirm that approximately 47 prescriptions were filled in the names of the five dogs between January and December 2019. All of these prescriptions were allegedly issued or authorized by the veterinarian.

Many doctors and researchers consider PMPs an important tool in combatting the opioid epidemic. It is a “24/7 database containing information on dispensed controlled substances included in Schedule II, III, and IV; those in Schedule V for which a prescription is required; naloxone, all drugs of concern, and cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil dispensed by a pharmaceutical processor in Virginia. The primary purpose of the PMP is to promote safe prescribing and dispensing practices for covered substances by providing timely and essential information to healthcare providers.”

Agents with the DEA reviewed records at the Saltville Rite Aid and were unable to trace the origins of the prescriptions listed in the PMP. When questioned, the veterinarian confirmed that many of the prescriptions for controlled substances the DEA found at the Rite Aid had been altered, and many were simply photocopies of previously written prescriptions. She further stated that one dog had been euthanized in August 2019 and the seven prescriptions filled for him after that date were clearly unauthorized.

Normally, pharmacists play a pivotal role in detecting drug diversion and identifying ways to facilitate appropriate prescribing, according to recent survey results from the American Society of Health System Pharmacies (ASHP).

The National Survey of Pharmacy Practice in Hospital Settings analyzed pharmacist actions related to drug therapy monitoring and patient education. Some of the strategies identified to eliminate opioid misuse, included:

  • Providing clinician education and guidelines (71 percent)
  • Use Rx monitoring database searches to track prescribing practices and better understand patient behaviors (65 percent)
  • Opioid diversion detection programs (56 percent)

ASHP provides a toolkit for pharmacy technicians and guidelines on preventing the diversion of controlled substances.

The Saltville case shows that the diversion of controlled substances is still a significant problem in Virginia. The Drug Diversion Unit of the Commonwealth warns that “drug diversion continues to be an exponentially severe problem in Virginia. Consistent with trends across the country, in Virginia, the current demand for diverted pharmaceuticals eclipses the demand for all other illicit drugs combined.”