Prescription for waste

Prison meds, taxpayer dollars trashed
July 17, 2008 9:42:35 PM PDT
The North Carolina Department of Correction is trashing your tax dollars by dumping unused prescription drugs in the landfill.A whistleblower's anonymous letter sent to Eyewitness News contained a valuable secret about the way the DOC disposes of prescription drugs.

Photographs included with the letter show boxes filled with unused medications destined for the Wake County landfill in Apex.

The letter, presumably from a Department of Correction employee with intimate knowledge of the prison pharmacy system, says the DOC has "wasteful procedures" that should "concern taxpayers of North Carolina."

Every year, the staff at the DOC Central Pharmacy in Wake County dispenses 21 million dollars worth of drugs and medical products for inmates across North Carolina.

"We have nothing to hide at this Department of Correction of pharmacy and are very open with all that we do," says DOC pharmacy director Janet Brown.

"We have many systems in place," says Brown, continuing, "to ensure that we and serve the public the very best we can with their tax dollars."

But, the anonymous letter says the DOC is wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars every month.

    Steve Daniels: Does it add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month?
    Janet Brown: There's no record of the amount of money that we send for destruction.
    Steve Daniels: You're not tracking it.
    Janet Brown: Correct.
During our investigation, Eyewitness News obtained records from the Wake County landfill in Apex revealing the Central Pharmacy has dumped .92 net tons or 1840 pounds since February. That works out to an average of about 460 pounds a month.

"When you look at what very small percentage is returned each day in comparison with the greater than 4,000 orders that we dispense daily it is a very small percentage," says pharmacy director Janet Brown. She says of the number of drugs that are returned to the pharmacy, only a small percentage are sent to the landfill.

Brown showed us the room where her staff sorts returned medication. That's medication that was sent back because a doctor changes the prescription or an inmate is having side-effects.

Some of it gets restocked, some it gets sent to an outside company for credit, and other drugs that cannot be redispensed under state law go to the landfill.

"We have recovery processes in place that just last year alone added to over one million dollars in savings," says Brown.

The whistleblower who sent us the letter and pictures also says the pharmacy is unnecessarily refilling prescriptions. The letter says, "the inmate refill request program is a joke."

    Steve Daniels: Does the refill system need to reexamined as the letter says?
    Janet Brown: We constantly look and we will continue to look, but I know at this point we have been able to review the system and are very confident in the refill systems.
"It's very disturbing," says State Senator Ellie Kinnaird. She's a co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee on Justice and Public Safety.

"We do not need to be throwing money into the landfill, says Senator Kinnaird. She continues, "we need to make sure that the system is in place, with checks and balances."

She says she's going to push the DOC for answers about the trashing of your tax dollars.

"Thank goodness you found this out. Thank goodness for a free press," says Senator Kinnaird.

In addition to the landfill, last year, the DOC also sent unused controlled substances to an incinerator. The DOC says it has kept its drug budget the same over the past two years even as the inmate population grows and drug costs increase.

They also point out that they have a permit to send the drugs to the landfill.

If you have a tip that you'd like Eyewitness News to investigate send us an email at investigates@abc11mail.com.


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