Prescription drug diversion among substance-impaired pharmacists



Background and Objectives

Prescription drug addiction is a significant problem affecting healthcare professionals. The purpose of the present study was to identify common mechanisms of prescription drug diversion by pharmacists, in order to facilitate the development of effective prevention programs and policies for this high-risk group.


A total of 32 pharmacists (71% male) who were being monitored by their State professional health program (PHP) due to substance-related impairment participated in anonymous guided group discussions.


Participants documented six primary methods of drug diversion by pharmacists: (1) taking expired drugs that can no longer be sold by the pharmacy and are awaiting disposal; (2) assuming responsibility for managing the pharmacy inventory and/or changing inventory records to prevent detection of missing drugs; (3) forging prescriptions for themselves, family members, friends, or customers in order to gain access to the drugs; (4) using “sleight of hand” techniques to acquire drugs while filling prescriptions or shelving products; (5) blatantly stealing drugs from the pharmacy, even in front of coworkers or video cameras, and (6) collecting patients' unused medications and keeping them.

Conclusions and Scientific Significance

Efforts to address the problem of prescription drug abuse and diversion by pharmacists should be expanded in order to safeguard pharmacies and the patients they serve. Future research should extend this study to larger samples and assess best practices for decreasing prescription drug diversion by pharmacists with addiction. (Am J Addict 2014;23:123–128)

“A friend of mine, in the [impaired professionals monitoring] program was also a pharmacist and he does stand-up comedy on the side. He's a funny guy, but in his routine he says, ‘I'm a pharmacist. Unlike most people, I love to go into work!”

Study participant