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October 23, 2014

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PRESCRIPTION ABUSE:

For pharmacy techs, drugs easy to steal

Low-paid workers have easy access to pills and little cause to fear prosecution

BY THE NUMBERS

59,770 -- Number of pills stolen by Cambra Nye, a pharmacy technician who worked for a CVS in North Las Vegas.

$42,000 -- Estimated pharmacy value of the pills, which are worth even more on the street.

$8 to $12 -- Hourly wages for technicians, who can sometimes sell stolen pills for $50 each.

Beyond the Sun

Some of the main suppliers to drug dealers wear white lab coats.

Prescription drugs rival street drugs in popularity among drug abusers and addicts, and much of it is getting on the street through pharmacy technicians, who have the same access to controlled substances as pharmacists.

They’ve even earned a nickname for themselves: “thieving techs.”

Pharmacy Board records show at least a dozen techs were disciplined for theft in 2006 and 2007, stuffing pills in their clothes or creating drug orders with fake names for their friends to buy.

One technician was disciplined for stealing 1,500 pills hydrocodone, better known by the brand names Vicodin, Lorcet and Norco. Another was disciplined for taking 450 hydrocodone pills. Many more are caught stealing handfuls of pills.

The tech responsible for the biggest known theft in Nevada is 37-year-old Cambra Nye, who worked for a CVS pharmacy in North Las Vegas. She confessed in March 2007 to stealing, over about a year, up to 300 bottles of hydrocodone; up to a hundred bottles of Alprazolam, also known as Xanax; up to 10 bottles of Viagra, and more.

In total Nye stole 59,770 pills worth an estimated pharmacy value of $42,000, records show, and a far greater value on the street.

Nye could not be reached for comment, but said in her statement to North Las Vegas police that she stole hundreds of bottles of pills because she felt “betrayed by the company I have worked hard for six years” by being passed up for a promotion.

Nye was sentenced to probation and CVS officials said she is now paying restitution.

CVS officials said they take loss prevention seriously but would not discuss their security efforts.

Most cases are handled by the Pharmacy Board and not criminally prosecuted.

Board officials say their most frequent disciplinary cases involve pharmacy tech thieves, some who have been caught stealing thousands of pills. Much more drug theft goes uncaught, they say.

The state’s Controlled Substance Abuse Task Force discussed the problem during its meeting Friday.

Pharmacy technicians need only a high school education and minimal training, but they perform every function of a pharmacist except counseling a patient or making professional decisions, said Larry Pinson, executive director of the Pharmacy Board. They’re paid from $8 to $12 an hour, but have access to pills that could be worth $50 each on the street.

Pharmacists have also been disciplined for large hauls of drugs. Roger Ly lost his pharmacist’s license after stealing 49,370 hydrocodone pills and 2,990 OxyContin pills during his employment at three Vons pharmacies.

Ly created fraudulent prescriptions for actual patients, which he would then fill and buy for himself by paying the co-pay and billing the patients’ insurance for the balance, according to the complaint filed against him.

At a December 2006 hearing, he said he stole the drugs “to provide them to wealthy young men with whom he played basketball in order to gain entry into their social circle,” the Pharmacy Board complaint said.

Nevada has the highest per capita use of hydrocodone in the nation, according to a Sun analysis of Drug Enforcement Administration data. The state ranks fourth in per capita use of methadone, morphine and oxycodone. And while the use of many street drugs is declining, the use of prescription narcotics is rising exponentially — and with it the rise in fatal overdoses.

In 2007, 258 people died in Clark County of overdoses of prescription narcotics, more than died in motor vehicle accidents. Street drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin were involved in 197 fatal overdoses the same year.

It’s impossible to estimate how much of the prescription drug consumption is illicit because there are so many sources of diverting the drugs to the illegal market, said Matt Alberto, deputy chief of investigations for the Nevada Public Safety Department, the lead prescription drug policing agency in the state.

The techs are an ongoing source for the illicit drug market because they can move from job to job, taking a few pills at each place, Alberto said.

Pinson said there are few precautions that can be taken to prevent theft by techs. He said there’s been discussion about requiring the techs, who are registered by the Pharmacy Board, to be licensed, as they are in some other states. A license might weed out some technicians who are unable or unwilling to go through the training and regulation process, he said.

That Pharmacy Board also created a regulation that requires anyone going to a pharmacy technician school to pass a drug test and background check, Ling said. But many of the techs are trained in-house in pharmacies, so the regulation won’t apply to everyone.

Ultimately, the techs either get caught or quit their jobs, Ling said. The problem is that it might take an employer months to catch a tech, he said.

“They can’t get another job — we make sure of that — but the damage has already been done by then,” Ling said.

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