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A pharmacist formerly employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs was indicted for her role in an alleged drug theft scheme stealing prescription drugs intended for disabled veterans.

Melissa Richardson, 43, of Shreveport, LA, was indicted on 20 counts of fraud for stealing a controlled substance from the veterans who were supposed to receive the drugs. She was a VA pharmacist at the time of the actions leading up to the indictment.

Richardson allegedly stole various quantities of Hydrocodone, Codeine, Diazepam, and Morphine. These are highly controlled and addictive medications. The available press coverage of the indictment does not mention whether the alleged theft was for her personal use or as part of the drug-selling scheme.

Richardson could face a maximum sentence of four years imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine for each count if convicted.

The National Drug Theft Problem

Here is some context about problems linked to drug theft and related fraud schemes involving prescriptive medications.

Drug theft is a rare but consistent problem among pharmacists who have ready access to drugs with a duty to safeguard those drugs. So, Richardson is not alone.

Those pharmacists who do steal drugs frequently use them while working, which obviously puts patients at risk. Impaired pharmacists no doubt have a higher instance of making mistakes when impaired.

RELATED: DOJ Stops Little Rock VA Drug Dealing Scheme

As a consequence of growing problems at pharmacies nationwide, not just VA pharmacies, the Justice Department is increasing its scrutiny of schemes involving improper dispensing of controlled substances. There is a lot of money in fraud schemes involving prescriptive drugs.

For example, TRICARE alone estimates $2 billion in allegedly fraudulent prescriptive schemes.

Settlements In Drug Theft Schemes

Examples of prosecutions published by Pharmacy Times include:

  • A $1.5 million settlement for failure to report loss or theft of controlled substances.
  • DaVita Rx agreed to pay $64 million in a settlement for a scheme involving the billing patients for prescriptions that were never sent.
  • K-Mart Corporation paid $32 million for its role in overbilling the federal government.

DOJ prosecutors are also looking at False Claims Act prosecutions in certain instances where pharmacies improperly bill government programs to cover for drug theft schemes involving pharmaceutical fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

RELATED: VA Surgeon Indicted After Prosecutors Drop Case

Frequency Of Drug Theft At VA

In 2017, former VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, said 300 out of 1,500 then pending misconduct cases against employees involved drug theft.

“There will be an investigation. People will have a due process. But if it’s determined that our employees are involved in diverting drugs, there will be zero tolerance and we will move for immediate removal,” Shulkin said.

However, from 2009 until 2017, only about 3 percent of the reported cases of drug loss or theft involving doctors, nurses or pharmacy employees ended in discipline, according to AP.

At the time, Shulkin promoted the 2017 Accountability Act as a tool to help the agency terminate employees engaged in wrongdoing related to the drug theft issue.

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27 Comments

  1. does this surprise anyone? Show me an employed person with an income who is perpetually broke but still has the need to spend and I show you an employee with the propensity to steal. There may be the 1% who don’t, but ….

    • These employees are same poor AFGE members David “little” Cox said he needed more $ protection from we oh-so-scary Veterans.

      The assholes are astounding in their audacity to use we Vets to stuff all their holes and meanwhile Vets making a claim for lost meds in mail will get flagged and maybe mandatory drug counseling groups sessions to meet the crazy juice flowing….

      • I have had narcotic analgesics go missing through the mail. I told my Doc. She put a trace on the meds. They were indeed lost, so I got them replaced. No flags. No “mandatory drug counseling groups sessions”. Just my meds, once it was clear they were really missing.

        Happened maybe three times in fifteen years, before the VA in my region halted the prescribing of all narcotics—except for dying Cancer patients (pallative care).

        So that makes me think it has a lot to do with the patient’s primary care provider, because that’s basically night-and-day. Shows how a “policy” can be seen through properly, but also used to harass and punish.

  2. Ever since Cortez has made it her mission to claim the VA is the greatest healthcare going. The internet has exploded with rebuttals.
    I’m going back to an old saying:
    *”DELAY, DENY, UNTIL THEY DIE!”* IS the VA’s motto!

    Ben, this would be your chance to shine. Especially IF you were to contact AOC, and shame her by asking to debate! You know she will decline.

  3. I agree with James’ comment.
    Plus, Besides Richardson, was anyone else involved? Because, she would have needed help to push the drugs – right!

    • It’s more likely she simply sold them to someone she knew, rather than pushed them herself. Either she approached this “third party”, or they approached her, with a plan for her to “divert” meds.

      If she was diverting from supply, it is unlikely any Veterans actually had to go without—though that was probably not a big concern of hers.

      Much more damaging to Veterans is the idea embraced by the VA that there is an “Opioid Epidemic/Crisis”, and that the only way it can only be “fixed” is by eliminating the proper use of narcotic analgesics by Veterans in disabling pain. You just have to suffer.

      That definitely leads to suicide. Whether or not there are more suicides after being forced off of effective and inexpensive—a key word for actually Disabled Veterans—Pain Treatments than there are accidental overdoses by Veterans on those therapies, is a question obscured by the refusal to discuss suicides in the media, while almost celebrating drug overdoses and violent homicides.

      The VA has a long history of not being held accountable for anything—by Party R and Party D and We The People. I do not expect this to change anything. Status Quo Ante.

      • When I was in the DC Neurobehavioral (Nursing care) Wing, I was given aspirin instead of Tylenol #3. Quickly recognized the taste on my tongue. Switching non controlled drugs for controlled drugs is another method. How many patients know what their pill is supposed to look like. And with the VA changing manufacturers, my Keppra has changed colors 3 times but the pill is the same shape. I doubt Keppra is an abused drug, just using it as an example of how difficult it is from the patient’s side to even know they have been used especially if the prescriber is in on the fix.

        There are prescriptions in my name for drugs I never received or took on the DC VAMC pharmacy list in my chart. Another way, with the prescriber’s assistance, drugs can find their way to the street from the VA.

      • Yeah, I forgot about that one. That’s another fairly widespread means of supplementing income—and one Drs. and Nurses are more often involved with, as well as pharmacists.

  4. AOC, plus all of congress should be required to use VHA if they think it’s so good. Having done time i can say VHA is worse than prison medicine. I don’t go to any VAMC’s, I fear for my life…

  5. junior

    Great point! I think that one thing that we as veterans have to do is start holding the Veteran service organization that we are members of accountable for the lack of advocacy that they are providing on our issues with the VA etc.. We pay our dues and all we get are a few meaningless events!!

  6. What a pathetic dumbass, should get 20 to life for stealing and distribution, selling them on the streets or from his home, there’s another reason for a loser like this to cause increases on meds to other victims our Veterans

  7. I apologize for this comment being off-topic: I need a ONE page summary from my psychiatrist with my current diagnosis, SUMMARY of history of treatment and current medications. Is my psychiatrist under any ethical obligation to provide this Info or can he tell me he’s just “too busy?” I am more than willing to wait as long as it takes to accommodate his schedule. I want to participate in a study of “bipolar and suicide in veterans” and Bethesda, Md has requested this information in order for me to be eligible. I have already spoken to the mental health coordinator director and he told me to talk to my psychiatrist, (we all know that’s called passing the buck). Any thoughts ? This is important lifesaving research for VETS. I’ve had three psychiatrists in six months at my VAMC, So I can already hear the excuse, “I’m too busy to provide this”. Is a one page summary too much to ask from a provider when you’re willing to wait a month or until my next appointment which will be even longer? You can see the study if you go on the NIMH website. Again, please forgive me for being off-topic but I need help with this question and don’t know where to turn. I’m definitely not suicidal. In fact you can’t have been suicidal for the past year to be eligible for this study. But I’ve had four very real suicide attempts in my past, last one 10 yrs ago So this is a very important topic for me. I don’t want another vet to die by suicide. I came too close myself and it’s only by the grace of God that I am alive as I should ( and fully intended to) have died each of those four times.

    • Old gator
      Go to “release of information” and request the document you want.
      From then on it’s a waiting game of a few weeks!

    • Old Gator, If you’ve been seen more than a year what you need should already be in your treatment file. Also request a complete copy of your treatment file and look for the last annual summary.

    • Old Gator, is this being done at Navy, New Tripler, or NIH? As I recall, the VAMC is on the other side of DC. I’d like an address to submit some info. I’m in Wyoming so couldn’t travel to Bethesda. I copied your post to take to my therapist on my next visit, May 3. I think he’ll agree my theories are worthy of consideration.

      I wonder if you, personally have had a TBI or cerebral malaria history or any other history of possible organic brain damage that may have precipitated subtle anosognosia. Your history of suicide ideation being in remission is similar to mine. I was hospitalized 6 times, the last being just a state of fear of reoccurrence in 2014. The first in 1991 for 5 months. I think it takes at least some deprecation of your “reality check” (anosognosia) in order to attempt suicide. I discovered the condition of Anosognosia in a Dentist’s Office in 1995 reading the May 1995 Discover Magazine article, “The Brain that Misplaced Its Body,” an article on “unilateral neglect” and realized that my condition was like having a few too many drinks and never sobering up. Fortunately, I haven’t been a substance abuser since 1971 so I haven’t aggravated the 1969 TBI residuals that damaged one or both of the areas of the brain responsible. (left frontal/temporal lobes or the right mid parietal lobe) Left is above the left eye and the right is behind the right ear. Any global condition such as substance abuse or diseases causing permanent organic injury will affect both areas

  8. probably a whistle blower they wanted to get rid of. I know of nurse that falsified records got a promotion to full time.

  9. Yet another incident at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, LA. Google this facility with the word “whistleblower” and see what pops up. This is also the same hospital that was putting blood stained sheets that should have been thrown out on current patients’ beds, as well as the facility that ran out of personal hygiene amenities for patients. They ought to periodically polygraph anyone who touches pharmaceuticals there to keep this from happening.

  10. “https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/former-ceo-major-drug-distribution-company-first-face-criminal-charges-n997571”

  11. Drug theft is hardly an Ocasio-Cortez problem. Nor is it unique to the VA, by any stretch of the imagination— as even Krause admitted in an accidental use of facts.

    One has two choices when picking up Narcotic analgesics: count them in front of the clerk-pharmacist—the one running the checkout counter—or take them home. If you count them, you have to do it out in front of everyone, which opens you up to a great many other problems, including robbery, theft, and even robbery-assault (“Home Invasion”). If you find one or two tablets missing—which is one of the ways stealing goes on—the Pharmacy will run around in a tizzy as if this never happens, you will get your pills, and the theft/mistakes will continue.

    If you just go home, you will not get the missing quantities replaced, and you won’t see the circus, but the end result is the same.

    This is an accepted consequence of creating an impaired supply chain for narcotics. Part of Nixon’s reaction to treating veterans with long-term, chronic pain, who were using and misusing morphine (and other opioid derivatives), was to create massive new regulations about the use and prescription of pain medications, which created a new class of criminal, the user of drugs; previously, Law Enforcement mostly focused on dealers and their suppliers, leaving users to the county jail. Now we sent tens of thousands of poor people, including a (really inconsistently-stated) number of veterans, to federal and state prisons as felons.

    This did not stop people using drugs, nor miraculously cure chronic pain. So Reagan, having bungled his actual wars, decided to bungle a non-War by calling drug interdiction and regulatory enforcement a “War” on drugs. That made more prisoners, but did not effects the issues of chronic pain and drug use/misuse.

    Then we found a way to dispense drugs more carefully, but not quite the way the Federal Government wanted—8 hours really, versus the Fed sticking to 12 Hours (for no valid reason). That problem dealt with by sleight-of-hand, viola! We have long-acting narcotics. For those in chronic pain dealing with the travails of 3-hour titration, they were an amazing breakthrough. For people who misuse Rx and who use drugs for other purposes—most of which are not “just for fun”—it was a bonaza of new availability.

    This, too, failed to solve the “street” drug problem. The wide availability of legal drugs like fentanyl meant that supply was difficult to stop both outside and inside the US, which made enforcement efforts more difficult. Some say it made more addicts, some not. I haven’t seen any numbers that aren’t dripping with hyperbole on either side—because there must always be sides—of the issue.

    So, my Pain Management Doctor—who is a civilian, because neither the nearby Joint Base nor the VA support Pain Management any longer, by direct order of DoD and VA—must constantly push my dose down without regard to the efficacy of the dosage or its titration, because an unusually large number of people die using fentanyl; even the only reasonably scientific report, from the University of Washington, admits (way in the back) that they cannot say whether or not the people using the drugs with an Rx were actually using them properly.

    So, once again, a Pharmacist has the chance to make a lot of money by selling drugs meant for therapeutic use on the “street”, and regulations created by uncaring asshats have created a whole new class of those “street users”, just like when Nixon made junkies out of combat veterans. And, as always, combat and other veterans are among those who suffer from these regulations, despite all the Bullshit about “square deal” and “promises” and etc…

    But neither Trump nor Ocasio-Cortez created this problem, and it is not by any stretch a soley-VA problem.

  12. Remember Veterans jam email your Senators or Representative contract the Veteran Affairs Committee passed a new Veteran Benefit Law of your belief.

    • Can you post a sample email written by you that you sent to your congressmen or the VA Committee to pass a law of your belief? I’m interested in what you have to say and how you say it. Maybe can be used as a sample.

  13. In other words….you smell like a bot or a front for someone who is unfamiliar with American English. So if you’re not (either one), let us know.

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