East Tenn. pharmacists say checking obituaries is a necessity

East Tennessee pharmacists say checking obituaries is a necessity

Updated:
Douglas Gregory Nichols (source: McMinn County Sheriff's Office) Douglas Gregory Nichols (source: McMinn County Sheriff's Office)

By HANA KIM
6 News Reporter

ATHENS (WATE) - Pharmacists in two East Tennessee cities say thanks to the prescription pill epidemic, addicts are going to remarkable lengths to get their supplies.

"People will do whatever they need to do to get the pills they are addicted to," said Athens Police Chief Charles Ziegler.

For example, Douglas Gregory Nichols, 36, went through a Walgreens drive-thru in September 2011 posing as his sister just three days after her death.

"The description by the tech was that he was a very ugly woman," Chief Ziegler said.

Long black hair, makeup and a feminine voice did the trick. Nichols made off with his sister's hydrocodone pills. Eventually pharmacists and police caught onto his game, and Nichols was arrested in January.

Ziegler says pharmacy staffs should now make it a habit to study obituaries. "I think anything they can do to help protect their client list, it's not a huge step, not a lot of trouble," he said.

At Village Pharmacy in Maryville, pharmacist Don Walker says he reluctantly plays investigator at times.

"We've had an experience with family members or someone connected who knew the patient trying to obtain prescriptions under that person's name, or if they are trying to get it refilled after they have passed away," Walker said.

He says Village Pharmacy has always looked at obituaries to keep tabs on their clients. However, thanks to the prescription pill epidemic, the practice is more important than ever.

Village Pharmacy also recommends that other pharmacies adopt the practice.

Walker has been a pharmacist for nearly four decades. He says trends have changed and customers are flooding the market seeking opiates like OxyContin. "It's been growing exponentially the last several years," he said.

"New people that come, we mostly don't fill them," Walker said.

The days of dispensing drugs with no questions or suspicions have ended. Walker says pharmacists have an obligation not to look the other way if they feel someone is doctor shopping. He also says there's no question some doctors are over-prescribing.

Chief Ziegler says law enforcement can't stop the prescription pill epidemic alone. He wants the community to step up, starting with doctors.

"The doctor's vigilance, the nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, their vigilance is what is going to be make the biggest difference," Chief Ziegler said.

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