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Debbie Dujanovic reporting
Produced by Kelly Just Utah's latest war on drugs is being fought against the illegal use of prescription medications. On the front lines are doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officers, but there's disagreement over how to fight this battle.
Prescription fraud is a clear-cut crime, but the best way to stop the criminals is not so simple. This story is all about one doctor trying to keep crooks from using his name to get high and the company, he says, is standing in his way. It happens to be the biggest retailer in the world - Wal-Mart!
Dr. Douglas Vogeler deals with prescription fraud all the time. Every day the Sandy surgeon must tell pharmacists he did not write the order they got. Someone is trying to get drugs illegally, using his good name.
Dr. Vogeler says, "It's a big business, and they'll do two or three just under my name in a day when they really get going."
Vogeler is determined to put the crooks out of business. His best chance to do that is picking up someone phoning in a fraudulent prescription.
"You have a lead time to bring a policeman there who can wait there and apprehend the person when they come in to fill the prescription," Dr. Vogeler explains.
We found it's a common tactic being used by pharmacies around the valley.
Reed Jensen, with Community Pharmacy inside St. Mark's Hospital, says, "We've gotta stop them somehow." He says participating in police sting operations is the right thing to do. "It's part of my job. It really is. I'm to control medications and make sure they're dispensed properly," he said.
Bryce Jolley, of Jolley's Corner Pharmacy, says, "We're gonna go all out, and we're gonna work with police, and we're gonna make sure it doesn't happen."
Both of these pharmacies will dispense drugs from a prescription they know is fake, when they know undercover cops can swoop in and catch the crooks in the act. We also called nationwide chains Shopko, Kmart and Costco. All told us they, too, will work with law enforcement to make the on-site arrests.
But Vogeler discovered it's a completely different story with Wal-Mart and its warehouse chain Sam's Club. "The first time this happened, I was pretty taken aback, and I said, ‘How do you stop this?' And they said, ‘Well, it's our policy not to. We don't want to create an incident in our store for which we would be liable for,'" he said.
Vogeler couldn't believe it. Could that really be company policy? He was so concerned that he asked Eyewitness News to investigate.
The Wal-Mart rule book we dug up says, "Dispensing a forged or altered prescription is illegal." Even if law enforcement asks, Wal-Mart employees must refuse. The pharmacists can call the cops to report a bad prescription, but if they take part in a police sting, they could be fired.
How does law enforcement feel about that?
Joe Christensen, director of the State Insurance Fraud Division, said, "I think this policy would discourage pharmacists or a citizen from doing the right thing and reporting a crime that they knew was going to happen." And when police can't make these arrests?
Salt Lake County detective Corbett Ford said, "They just kind of help the problem to continue."
Dr. Vogeler needs all the help he can get to stop prescription fraud. Now that he knows Wal-Mart's rumored policy is real, this Sandy surgeon is more outraged than ever. "I definitely strongly disagree with Wal-Mart's policy, and I hope they'll change it if they see some of this interview."
The public relations folks at Wal-Mart did not want to talk on camera about this but did give us a statement underlining the reasons for that policy. They said, "Protecting the safety of our associates and patients is a top priority at Wal-Mart pharmacies," and "... our pharmacists do not fill known fraudulent prescriptions."
The spokesperson added that when a fraudulent prescription is written, the crime is against the doctor. It's up to doctors to work with law enforcement.