Exclusive: Apparent kickback scheme caught on tape
Published Monday, January 18, 2010 7:13PM PST
A CTV News hidden-camera investigation has uncovered what appears to be a kickback scheme involving pharmacists and drug-recovery houses in B.C.
CTV News was first alerted to the apparent scheme by Jim O'Rourke, the owner of Vision Quest Recovery House in Surrey.
O'Rourke said he's been approached by several pharmacies offering him money to send his addicts to them to fill methadone prescriptions. Methadone is the legal drug funded by B.C. taxpayers to help addicts kick their heroin addictions.
"The pharmacies need to stop. If there wasn't money in this they wouldn't do it. And by the sounds of things, this is widespread. This is not just one pharmacy. There's a ton of them out there," O'Rourke said.
O'Rourke invited CTV News to secretly record a meeting at his recovery house between him and representatives claiming to be from a company called Express Pharmacy.
Two women entered O'Rourke's recovery house and handed him Express Pharmacy business cards.
And then they made an offer.
"Our boss pays the houses $100 per month per methadone patient. If it's on pills, daily dispense, it's $50 per month. If you have many patients, it adds up," one of the representatives told O'Rourke.
That would mean thousands of dollars a month for the average recovery house.
O'Rourke asked them whether this is standard.
"It's not standard," one of the representatives replied. "It's a perk."
Express Pharmacy is located in Abbotsford. When CTV News visited the pharmacy at various times through the day and night, it was always closed.
Nobody answered calls at the pharmacy either.
The company's pharmacy manager Gerrylyn Sonier couldn't be reached at her home.
The apparent kickback scheme doesn't appear to be isolated.
One of O'Rourke's clients, Beverley Parker, said she switched to O'Rourke's recovery house after the previous recovery house she was at in Surrey tried to pressure her to fill her methadone prescriptions at a specific pharmacy.
Parker said she refused to leave the pharmacist she's trusted for years and was kicked out.
"I had no place to go. I had the clothes on my back. I either would have walked around all night or could have been grabbed off the street by anyone," she said.
The recovery house says she was kicked out for other reasons.
Provincial regulations outlaw kickback schemes.
The agreement between pharmacists and the province that allows them to supply methadone states:
"No goods or considerations beyond those approved ... shall be offered by any party to any other party as an inducement to secure prescription orders."
Bylaws for the College of Pharmacists of B.C. similarly state: "Pharmacists ... must not enter into agreements with patients, patients' representatives ... or any other person that limits a patient's choice of pharmacy."
Representatives of the college didn't want to talk to CTV News until after the segment aired.
Coming Tuesday: CTV News will have the health minister's reaction and more from critics who say the system needs to change.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward