Hidden-camera video prompts two investigations
Jon Woodward , ctvbc.ca
Published Tuesday, January 19, 2010 7:28PM PST
Two provincial investigations have been launched into a possible methadone kickback scheme uncovered by CTV News.
The B.C. Health Ministry and the B.C. College of Pharmacists say they will start an investigation into an Abbotsford pharmacy after watching hidden camera video of what appeared to be an offer to pay cash to a drug recovery house in return for methadone referrals.
"Good for CTV to dig this up. I can tell you we'll be all over this," said Health Minister Kevin Falcon.
Depending on the results of the investigation, the pharmacy manager, Gerrylyn Sonier, could lose her pharmacist's licence, and the pharmacy could lose its contract with PharmaCare.
In either case, the pharmacy would not be able to fill prescriptions of any kind, including methadone.
Methadone is the legal drug used to replace the cravings of heroin addicts. Pharmacies are strictly forbidden from offering incentives in exchange for filling the prescriptions.
In a story that aired on Monday, CTV News was invited to record a conversation between two women claiming to be employees of Express Pharmacy and the owner of a Surrey drug recovery house.
In the video, the women offer $100 per methadone prescription that the recovery house can get.
When asked if the deal was standard, one woman says, "It's a perk."
Neither the pharmacy nor the manager has returned repeated calls to comment.
CTV News has also learned that Sonier has faced controversy before.
Court documents show that seven years ago a group of pharmacists was accused of defrauding the methadone billing system of $1.4 million. They settled out of court.
Sonier was one of the defendants in the case.
"It's unacceptable for the pharmacist, it's unacceptable in terms of the recovery houses that are allegedly also involved, and I can tell you that all of them are going to come under some very unpleasant, intense scrutiny," Falcon said.
NDP Health Critic Adrian Dix said it's time the province also cracked down on drug recovery houses.
"It's part of the problem with an unlicensed, unregulated recovery house system," he said. "This shouldn't happen and hopefully it will stop in this case but that doesn't mean it's the only case," he said.
Falcon said recovery houses may face stricter rules governing how they get medicine for residents.
One way would be to expand a pilot program that is currently operating in a recovery house in B.C.'s Interior.
"This (story) proves how important it is that we move that licensing regime," Falcon said. "So we can get out of the business the kind of people who are taking advantage of vulnerable individuals."