Drug dilution scheme: Local families head to Jefferson City to fight back

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Local families will go to Jefferson City Tuesday to support new legislation which would hold drug companies liable if they don't report prescription tampering.

The proposed bill is tied to Kansas City pharmacist Robert Courtney, who pleaded guilty to diluting 98,000 chemotherapy prescriptions and pocketing millions of dollars 12 years ago.

The families of patients who died want to ensure that this won't happen to others. 

Dennis Almsberger's wife of 34 years took prescription drugs mixed by Courtney. She died several years ago. Almsberger is fighting to keep the powerful drug companies in check, which he believes, "turned a blind eye to the dilution scheme."

In an e-mail to 41 Action News, Almsberger wrote, "A few months after my wife passed, I found out that Courtney could have been stopped months or possibly years before he was caught if people from Eli Lily or Bristol-Myers Squibb had come forward with information they had."

Almsberger said after learning that the drug companies knew about the criminal actions he, "decided to try to get the law changed and to make sure drug companies are held responsible for their actions."

Tuesday afternoon, House Bill 1460 will be debated at noon on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives.

The legislation turns toward the drug companies and would make it a misdemeanor offense for failure to report drug tampering to the Federal Drug Administration within one week. It would also assign a felony offense to anyone who tries to cover up evidence of fake or diluted drugs.

In the Courtney case, Eli Lily and Company and Bristol-Myers Squibb have settled more than 300 lawsuits accusing them of failing to stop Courtney from watering down cancer drugs. 

Courtney was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. The pharmacist admitted to diluting thousands of prescriptions inside Research Medical Tower Pharmacy in Kansas City over a 9-year span.

Worldwide, the problem of fake and poor quality drugs has extended to 120 countries. The Institute of Medicine reports one reason for the growth in fake prescription fraud is the profit margin for criminals.

Fake prescriptions are twice as profitable as supplying illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin.

READ | House Bill 1460: http://on.mo.gov/1bRiPMD

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