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Prescription fraud - what you need to know

Jan 10, 2017

Do you know how to protect your prescription pads (and yourself) in an age of rising pharmaceutical misuse?

According to the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey report, there has been a rise in the misuse of pharmaceuticals by Australians, particularly men in their 30s and women in their 40s.

This research is supported by a 2016 report from the Penington Institute, which found that prescription medications are now responsible for 69% of drug-related deaths.

Drug-seeking behaviours can include trying to steal prescription-writing materials to forge prescriptions or producing prescriptions using doctors’ personal details and provider numbers.

Prescription forgery is a continuing issue, despite advances in technology such as electronically produced prescriptions. In fact there are websites with step-by-step instructions on how to create realistic-looking, forged prescriptions, and the examples we have seen are sometimes difficult to detect from original prescriptions.

What happens if a suspicious prescription is presented?

Under each state and territory’s legislation, it is a criminal offence to forge a prescription, fraudulently alter a prescription, make false representations to obtain a prescription or present a known forged or altered prescription to obtain a drug.

Examples include fabricating the entire prescription, stealing a prescription pad and completing the details, altering the amount of a drug or adding another drug to an otherwise valid prescription.

State and territory laws require pharmacists to verify suspicious prescriptions. If a forgery is confirmed, the pharmacist must retain the prescription and report the matter to the poisons, pharmaceuticals or drug unit within the state or territory health department, as well as to the police in some states.

Given this obligation, you may be contacted by a pharmacist to verify whether you provided the prescription. Or you may notice or suspect that a prescription pad or prescription paper has been stolen from your rooms.

‘A pharmacist just called about a script I know I didn’t write’

This scenario is sometimes how doctors are first made aware of stolen prescriptions pads and stationery.

You should ask the pharmacist to provide you with a copy of the prescription so you can verify it. You can release patient details to confirm with the pharmacist whether or not you have seen the patient, or provided them with a script with the relevant date or drugs listed. You should not need to disclose any other patient information.

'I think my prescription pad/stationery has been stolen'

If you have misplaced a prescription pad or are concerned it has been stolen, you should notify your relevant state-based health authority.

They will make certain notifications to prevent prescription fraud and guide any further action. This may include involving police, depending on the circumstances.

In some states and territories this may include adding your details to a list of registered providers whose details are known to have been used for forged prescriptions.

You should call your medical defence organisation to obtain further advice if there are any complicating circumstances.

Safeguarding your prescriptions

Some steps you can take to protect your prescriptions from misuse or theft, are:

  • Don’t leave pads or stationery lying around on desks or in other accessible locations.
  • Don’t leave a patient unattended in a consulting room.
  • Store pads and stationery in a locked cabinet or drawer, preferably where staff can monitor access (rather than a more isolated corridor area).
  • Don’t over-order so you can’t keep track of your pads or stationery.
  • Don’t leave too many electronic prescription pages in the printer.
  • If you visit a nursing home or other place, don’t leave a prescription pad there for your next visit.
  • Destroy any pads or stationery if they are no longer needed.

Ending the doctor-patient relationship because of a stolen prescription pad

You may wish to stop treating a patient who stole a prescription pad or forged a prescription because of the breach of trust.

Communicate your decision directly with the patient, if possible, and explain that the doctor-patient relationship relies on mutual trust and that it is difficult to provide care when there is a breakdown in that relationship of trust.

It is not appropriate to end the doctor-patient relationship during an emergency or if the patient is suffering from an acute illness.

More information:

Avant guide to privacy reforms
Prescribing drugs of dependence
Ending the doctor-patient relationship

This article was first published in Australian Doctor. Read the original article here.

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We welcome your feedback on this article – email the Editor at: editor@avant.org.au