Patients battle prescription problems


"You don't know what it's like to live every day, your life is ruined," said one patient.

Patient after patient expressed their frustration and desperation to Florida's board of pharmacy and healthcare professionals.

[WEB EXTRA: Extended interview]

The goal of this meeting-- to find a solution so patients can get their controlled substance medication like oxycodone or Percocet for pain or Ritalin to treat ADHD.

Jim Koivisto a pharmacist says, "The solution is don't play games with people's health; let us take care of them."

But pharmacists here feel like their hands are tied.

Jeenu Philip says "There is a lot of fear out there."

Philip --a supervisor with Walgreens worries about the responsibility being placed on his pharmacists.

Philip says, "Many of my pharmacists don't necessarily make the best decisions at all times. They are struggling with the fear of filling or not filling."

The struggle begins with a list of red flags issued by the DEA warning pharmacist against customers who pay cash for prescriptions or visit a pharmacy far from their home.

Dr. Harold Dalton says, "The red flags being used by pharmacists now are used to deny patients legitimate prescriptions and not every patient fits into a nice little box."

I ask, "So those red flags need to be revised in your opinion?"

Dr. Daniel Buffington, pharmacist, says, "not only revised but needs to be used appropriately."

But it's hard to make those decisions pharmacist say because they're constantly dealing with drug shortages.

"What I see…in my own practice is that patients are suffering. They are suffering unendingly because of a lack of access issue," Dr. Harold Dalton, a pain specialist, said. 

But Gary Cacciatore of Cardinal Health, a drug wholesaler that distributes medicine to pharmacies, hospitals and healthcare providers, says he's caught in the middle.

Cacciatore says, "I want to make it very clear that the limits or thresholds we put on a customer's ability to purchase controlled substances are anything but random or arbitrary."

Cardinal Health says they use a complex formula to determine limits for pharmacies.

If a pharmacist needs to order more-- they must show proof to justify that request.

But if a shortage remains-- those at this meeting agree pharmacists must be honest with their customers.

Philip says, "One of the things I think is important is that pharmacist not lie to patients about whether they have a drug in stock. If they're going to make a decision to not fill a prescription, be honest with the patient."

The common denominator among both of these concerns-- red flags and shortages-- the DEA.

And the only agency not at the meeting

Head of the board told the meeting, "Clearly the DEA is the missing link here..Today"

I ask, "Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?"

Dr. Dalton says, "I think this meeting is the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the start of a conversation.