Marv Interchange 2013

At the 2013 Interchange, Marvin Shepherd, PhD, Director of the Center for Pharmacoeconomic Studies, College of Pharmacy, at the University of Texas presented ongoing research on how opportunistic drug vendors exploit hospital pharmacies, giving attendees a window into how drug diversion subverts the secure supply chain and endangers patients.

Titled Grey Market Vendor Activities and Drug Shortages in Texas Acute Care Hospitals, the focus of Dr. Shepherd’s research was to explore a possible source for diverted drugs: hospital pharmacies.

He was inspired to explore this question by the 2012 fraud case reported by the FBI, where hundreds of millions of dollars worth of prescription medications were being resold in a national underground market. What interested Dr. Shepherd was that most of the diverted drugs were coming from “closed door pharmacies, aka pharmacies that dispense in hospitals and not to the public.”

Dr. Shepherd and his graduate student Tawfik Rabid, were already conducting a study on how acute care hospitals managed drugs in short supply. Dr. Shepherd added questions to the survey that focused on the buying and selling by “opportunistic” wholesalers who are working outside the secure drug supply chain.

Though the results are preliminary, Dr. Shepherd’s work paints a startling picture of a thriving underground drug market working wholly outside the secure drug supply chain.

Of the 125 hospital pharmacy directors who responded to the study, more than 85% have been contacted by these opportunistic vendors offering to sell drugs in short supply, and almost 25% of respondents reported being asked to sell drugs they had in their stores. Many of the pharmacy directors reported repeated calls to try and effect these transactions.

He also found that vendors are not “choosy” about who they contact. Size & ownership details about hospitals were irrelevant to the conclusions in his research, and phone calls appeared to be the most common form of sales contact.

By S. Imber