administration's war against prescription drug abuse and the diversion of
such drugs to the black market has expanded to include pharmacists. Ventura,
California, pharmacist Richard Ozar is slated to go on trial soon in federal
court over charges he filled prescriptions for the opioid pain reliever
Oxycontin that were not destined for appropriate medical care. In November,
a federal grand jury indicted Ozar on 33 counts of conspiring with local
pain physician Dr. Michael Huff to unlawfully distribute Oxycontin.
According to the patients' and physicians' advocacy group the
Pain Relief Network [http://www.PainReliefNetwork.org],
about a hundred physicians have been charged or prosecuted with drug
distribution offenses because of their opioid prescribing practices. While
prescribing high doses of opioid pain relievers may be in line with accepted
medical practice for dealing with pain, federal and state prosecutors are
quick to view such doctors as "pill mills" or "Dr. Feelgoods."
But up until now, federal prosecutors have not extended their
attention to pharmacists. (Redding, California, pharmacy owners Steven and
Madeline Miller were indicted along with Dr. Frank Fisher in a failed
prosecution there, but those were state charges.) And Ozar is vowing to
All Ozar did was fill legal prescriptions, said his attorney,
Victor Sherman in remarks made to the California legal newspaper the Daily
Journal. "This is a man who's never had a traffic ticket," Sherman said. "He
thinks he's doing the community a service, then he turns around, and they
indict him. It's devastating. It's an example of Big Brother coming in after
the fact, seeing the new hot drug and trying to teach the medical profession
But federal prosecutors are alleging that Ozar "must have
known" some of the pills he dispensed were destined for the streets.
According to the indictment issued in November, among the reasons why Ozar
should have known the pills were illegally prescribed are that some patients
appeared healthy, some patients were prescribed very large quantities, and
some patients paid in cash.
Pharmacists are not free to just fill any prescription sent
them, said US Assistant Attorney Steven Young, who will prosecute the case.
"There is a corresponding duty to evaluate the prescription," Young said.
"Under the circumstances and facts of this case, a grand jury concluded that
he knew or should have known that those prescriptions were not valid."
But, retorted defense attorney Sherman, neither the DEA nor
the state Medical Board have placed upper limits on the amount of
painkillers a doctor may prescribe, so long as there is a legitimate need
for pain treatment. And even if Dr. Huff exceeded the bounds of medical
standards in his prescribing, the pharmacist who fills what appear to be
valid prescriptions should not be targeted, Sherman said.
"We're not saying Ozar didn't make any independent judgments,
because he did," Sherman explained. "These kinds of medications are
legitimate ways to fight pain, and he believes that pain medications can be
given in these quantities. Maybe other pharmacists would have made different
judgments. But that doesn't make our guy a criminal. Certainly, there's no
As for prosecutors' suggestions that the level of prescribing
and dispensing pain relievers proves the pair were up to no good, Sherman
had a tart response. "So the government's medical opinion will be that he
shouldn't have written the prescriptions. But who are they? Are they the
Gee, maybe next
time you have severe chronic pain you should call up your local federal
prosecutor and ask him to write the 'scrip.
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