Oxycontin scheme exposes flaws in health system
A week after a multimillion-dollar prescription drug fraud case exposed holes in B.C.'s pharmaceutical system, the province is poised to make changes to increase security.
Sammy Sandy Habib, 46, of Kelowna, and his brother Micheal Ferris Habib, 49, of Calgary were charged last week with illegally obtaining and possessing $3.4M worth of the prescription painkiller Oxycontin – more than 67,000 pills.
Many of the pain relievers, derived from codeine, were prescribed by B.C. doctors and handed over by B.C. pharmacists.
Court documents name 12 B.C. and Alberta doctors who were roped into a scheme in which the accused would allegedly go from one to the next getting prescription after prescription – to turn around and sell the pills at a profit illegally.
Speaking to CTV News by telephone Thursday, Sam Habib denied any criminal wrongdoing and said he has a legitimate Oxycontin prescription as a result of a gunshot wound he suffered in 2008.
He also said he would sit down and talk about it with CTV, but he is currently out of province.
Kelowna pharmacist Cam Zaremba said he was targeted in the same way, but red flags went up when he saw that the person had multiple refills for the drug in the past.
"I told the prescriber ‘were you aware of this?' and he said he didn't know that and he just cancelled the prescription," Zaremba said.
The criminal charges suggest many of the prescriptions were filled in Alberta, but B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong admits the frauds cost taxpayers millions.
"When you factor in pharmaceuticals, when you factor in improper access to other services you may be measuring fraudulent activity in the hundred of millions of dollars so it is a great concern," de Jong said.
The province said it is planning to issue new enhanced care-cards to make things easier to track. De Jong said there will likely be an announcement on the new measures within a few days.
Kelowna Dr. Lourens Human prescribed some of the Oxycontin and it's also alleged that prescription forms were stolen from him to get more. He declined to speak with CTV News on Thursday.
The association that represents B.C. doctors has heard no complaints.
"If there is any concern bout the prescribing practices that's something that the College of Physicians and Surgeons in B.C. would look into," said Dr. Ian Gillespie of the B.C. Medical Association.
It's believed the college is following up on this case, but there's no formal investigation.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Kent Molgat