Problems with your pills: 'You're completely at the mercy of a pharmacy'

Problems with your pills: 'You're completely at the mercy of a pharmacy' »Play Video
The empty pill bottles found in the apartment of a man who died from an overdose six years ago.

PORTLAND, Ore. – A pharmacy worker with a history of drug addiction steals prescription amphetamines, extracts the chemicals he needs to get high, then puts the worthless remains back up for sale to the public.

Another shows up for work fall-down drunk.

Another swallows so many pills, she ends up on the emergency room in a near-coma.

And that’s not to mention the many, many pharmacists cited for giving patients the wrong medications.

Every year in the U.S., prescription pills kill about 15,000 people.

That makes the people selling them pretty important, right?

The On Your Side Investigators looked through the records of thousands of pharmacies and pharmacy workers, and unearthed a mountain of violations ranging from silly to severe.

That information turned out to be so difficult to obtain, KATU convinced the state to reconfigure its website to make it all easily accessible to the public.

The KATU On Your Side Investigators dug into the state's database of pharmacy violations and uncovered plenty problems at local pharmacies. Click on the map below to check out your local pharmacy. If you click on the flag, you'll find a link to the text of the violation.

‘You could kill somebody’

More than 600 pharmacy workers were investigated last year alone by the Oregon Board of Pharmacy. Some had their charges dismissed; others were fined or lost their licenses altogether.

On June 3, 2013, pharmacy technician Jennifer Galster showed up to work at the Kaiser Permanente in Beaverton drunk.

And not just a little drunk.

The board said her blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.18 – and that was nearly four hours after she arrived for her shift.

The board revoked her license, and she no longer works as a technician.

Pharmacist Van Tran met a similar fate.

Tran had already gotten herself put on probation for stealing and taking drugs. The end of the road came when she was sent to the emergency room at Providence for taking so many drugs - 10 acetaminophen, four lorazepam, two zolpidem and four Esgic, to be exact – in a near coma, according to a state report.

Also without a license now is Donald Lorence.

Investigators say Lorence stole amphetamines right out of the capsules, resealed those capsules, then put the now-worthless capsules back in stock at a Portland Fred Meyer. They also say he stole hydrocodone and carisoprodol.

READ: Fred Meyer's statement on the Lorence case.

Then there’s the case of Matthew Mainard.

The board says Mainard made about 20 dispensing errors over the years as a pharmacist at a Milwaukie Walgreen’s. The mistakes ranged from giving out the wrong medication to improper dosages to incorrect directions.

Is it possible he’s still working as a pharmacist after all that?

“No … I’m retired,” Mainard told the On Your Side Investigators outside his house last week.

Two employees at the store, however, said Mainard still works there part time.

 Walgreen's had no comment on Mainard, referring to an earlier statement about this story.

“We take these matters seriously," the earlier comment reads. "We are committed to fully complying with all laws and regulations in every state where we operate and work closely with boards of pharmacy and other authorities to ensure compliance.”

Customers at the pharmacy were not pleased.

“The dosage is so integral to being safe,” said Sara Brassfield. “You could kill somebody. That’s dangerous.”

‘He definitely died’

Portland lawyers Mark McDougal and Greg Kafoury have handled about 40 cases involving pharmacy mistakes over the last 20 years.

In some cases, patients were seriously hurt.

In two cases, patients died.

“We're talking about these pill mills turning people into zombies,” Kafoury said.

In perhaps the worst such case they’ve dealt with, investigators found a mountain of empty pill bottles in the apartment of a man who had overdosed. They contained massive amounts of pain medications written by the now-closed Payette Clinic in Vancouver.

McDougal and Kafoury asked that the man's identity remain anonymous.

"They definitely filled it, and he definitely died,” McDougal said. “There is no reason why this prescription should have been filled."

McDougal and Kafoury both say they believe most pharmacists are honest and ethical –but say that with some, you’re taking a big risk.

‘People assume they’re dealing with professionals’

Fiona Karbowicz works for the Oregon Board of Pharmacy.

She said pharmacists are most commonly cited for giving patients the wrong medications, but that the average patient can probably feel safe going to the pharmacy.

"Though it is a possibility, it's actually quite rare that the board hears cases involving patient harm,” she said.

Still, the board looks into about 600 cases annually and submitted more than 600 “adverse action/state licensure” reports to a national database from 2008-2012.

The board has a tool on its website designed to allow the public to research violations by both pharmacies and pharmacists.

The problem is, that tool was a mess. For instance, if you searched a chain like Safeway or Walgreen’s, you’d get back a message that said, "This search will return more than 100 records. Please narrow your search criteria.”

The same went for Portland, Beaverton and other large cities.

And that was just for violations against pharmacies. Even more problematic, violations against pharmacists – by far the more damning category – were nearly impossible to find unless you knew the name of a specific pharmacist you wanted to look into.

After the On Your Side Investigators brought the problem to the state’s attention last week, however, the Board of Pharmacy agreed the site needed a makeover - and by Monday, had begun making it more user-friendly.

That tool is worth a look.

"You're completely at the mercy of a pharmacy,” Kafoury said. “People assume that they're dealing with professionals, who are skilled, who are knowledgeable, who are looking out for them. The point is that it's not always so."