1. Health

Law doesn't require ID to pick up prescription drugs

HUDSON — The painkillers weren't going to be ready for hours.

"That's fine," Shannon Carmack told the CVS pharmacy staff through the drive-through window microphone. "We'll be back to pick them up tomorrow."

But the next day, the month's supply of oxycodone and oxycontin that her husband, Tim, a severely disabled Vietnam veteran, had been prescribed was gone.

"No one has ever picked up our prescriptions," Mrs. Carmack said.

A surveillance video from the store at 13839 Little Road on Jan. 31 showed a young woman with a baby to be the likely person who picked up the 180 tablets of oxycodone and 90 OxyContin pills, Mrs. Carmack said.

She has no idea how the woman, who was not asked to show any identification, might have obtained the drugs.

"Maybe she was in the store and heard us give our name and address over the drive-through speaker," Mrs. Carmack said.

The situation exposes a chink in the armor that the state recently approved in the war against prescription drug abuse. Changes included tightening the rules on pain management clinics and investing in a prescription monitoring database to prevent patients from "doctor shopping."

But nowhere does the law require pharmacies to check identification of those picking up controlled substances.

"The pharmacies have the right to ask for an ID if they think something suspicious is going on," said Jennifer Hirst, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health. "But it isn't mandatory." She said that doesn't stop pharmacies from adopting tighter internal policies.

"That doesn't make sense to me," said Mrs. Carmack, who recalled how many stores make people show driver's licenses to buy some over-the-counter cough syrups and cold medicines.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident to find out who took the drugs, spokesman Kevin Doll said. He declined to comment further.

Mrs. Carmack said when she first reported the incident, a deputy told her nothing could be done. She said when she called and asked to discuss the matter with Sheriff Chris Nocco, who has vowed to hunt down prescription drug abusers "like a wolfpack," the person at the switchboard said "He's busy. That's what deputies are for."

The incident got the attention of state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. A vocal critic of "pill mills," he pushed for legislation to create the monitoring program.

"There's not much appetite this year for drug legislation," said Fasano's aide, Greg Giordano. However, he said Fasano would try to add an amendment to a drug-related bill if it were to reach the floor.

"It would require pharmacies to check people's identification for controlled substances," to ensure the right person was picking up the prescription, he said.

When contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, CVS corporate spokesman Michael DeAngelis asked which store the incident took place in and promised to look into it. The drugstore chain did not respond to questions about their policies on handing over medicines to customers.

Some drug stores do have tighter rules.

"We do ask for photo ID," said Walgreens spokeswoman Viviki Panagiotakakos. She said pharmacy staff must ask for it "when the patient or patient's agent picking up a prescription for a controlled substance is unknown to the pharmacist."

Without the medications, Mrs. Carmack said she faced the possibility of hospitalizing her husband if his pain grew too unbearable. Tim Carmack, 65, has elephantiasis, a disease that causes extremely painful swelling of the arms, legs and genitals. It also weakens the immune system. Doctors believe he contracted the rare tropical disease from an infected mosquito while serving in Vietnam.

Once he tried to stay off the pain medicine for awhile so his body wouldn't get desensitized to it.

"He ended up in the hospital and was delusional and having spasm," she said.

After some back-and-forth over Tim Carmack's prescription, a CVS representative last week said the pharmacy would provide a refill.

Mrs. Carmack said she just wants to warn everyone about the potential for theft if someone overhears you giving a pharmacist personal information.

"Don't say anything," she said. "Just hand that ID over so they can read it."