The issue of writing prescriptions using an alias has entered the spotlight following the overdose death of acclaimed musician Prince last year. A doctor allegedly wrote prescriptions using a different name to safeguard Prince’s identity. This unfortunately is a more common practice than one might suspect, and pharmacists must be wary.
I first encountered this type of situation while in charge of the pharmaceutical unit at the Cincinnati Police Department in the 1990s. It was on a local level, so the so-called celebrity would have been unknown to anyone outside our area but was considered an icon locally. We served a search warrant on the pharmacy for a variety of potential criminal offenses and, in searching the pharmacy, discovered a ledger that detailed the filling of prescriptions for this local celebrity under a false name and address.
This was only part of the independent pharmacist’s problem, as the prescriptions were not written by just any doctor but by the pharmacy owner himself. He had multiple issues that resulted in criminal indictments and the loss of his pharmacist license. He was a friend of the local icon’s and was a bit starstruck and so was illegally dispensing pain medications each month. It was difficult to understand why the pharmacist would risk his livelihood and even his personal freedom to accommodate this person, but he did.
Although this is an extreme example, the more common practice is a prescriber’s writing the prescription using an alias and someone, likely not the celebrity, taking it to the pharmacy to be filled. In some cases, a pharmacist may not know that a fake name is being used, especially if the associate or relative filling the script is using his or her own name, even though it is for the celebrity. All pharmacies should require photo ID when a controlled substance prescription is presented, although in this scenario, the “patient” may very well have had identification.
The problem typically starts when a prescriber is either so enamored of a celebrity or is tempted with good old US currency, tickets to an event, or some combination thereof. These prescribers somehow justify their behavior as nothing serious, thinking that they are protecting the celebrity from public scrutiny. But regardless of how they rationalize the situation, it is a violation of federal and state statutes and regulations.
I am sure all pharmacists are aware of their responsibility when it comes to filling a prescription. If you know it is bogus or strongly suspect it is not legitimate, or if the prescriber is blatantly involved in suspected illegal activity, do not fill the prescription. Pharmacists absolutely must not fill prescriptions that they know or suspect are using false names. Sports stars, actors, singers, politicians, and others who may want to disguise their identity when using a controlled-substance prescription are breaking the law. In addition, individuals who prescribe and/or dispense those drugs knowing that the prescription contains false information are also subject to criminal and administrative penalties. If this issue surfaces at a pharmacy, the pharmacist must contact law enforcement and request a thorough investigation.