Health ministry to boot 46 pharmacies from drug plan

PharmaCare crackdown follows audits, concern over methadone dealing irregularities in Lower Mainland (with interactive chart)

The B.C. government intends to effectively shut down as many as 46 Lower Mainland pharmacies by excluding them from the PharmaCare program in the wake of a review that flagged various abuses.

Letters have gone out to the pharmacies giving them three weeks to argue why they shouldn’t be denied the ability to bill the publicly funded drug plan effective next month.

There have been past allegations of kickbacks paid by methadone-dispensing pharmacies to retain addicted patients, among other concerns about their practices.

Health ministry officials aren’t releasing specifics or the locations of the pharmacies involved.

“Many of these pharmacies are dispensing methadone,” Health Minister Terry Lake confirmed.

A regulatory change that took effect in December now allows the ministry to refuse to do business with pharmacies with a history of problematic business and billing practices, and forces them to disclose their ownership, management and track record.

“Until now, it could be hard for the ministry to cancel the enrolment of a pharmacy taking advantage of patients or breaking PharmaCare’s billing rules,” Lake said.

Recent audits of pharmacies have turned up hundreds of thousands of dollars in billing irregularities.

The ministry says some pharmacies improperly filed drug information for patients into the province’s prescription-tracking network, potentially risking their health, while others gave false information on their enrolment applications.

A health ministry spokesperson would not release specifics or the locations of the 46 targeted pharmacies, but said some are being excluded for problems unrelated to methadone.

The 20 highest billing methadone pharmacies in B.C. include four each in Surrey and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, five elsewhere in Vancouver, three in Abbotsford, two in Victoria and one each in Nanaimo and Kamloops.

Together they were paid more than $12 million from the PharmaCare program to supply methadone in 2013, according to a provincial review of the methadone maintenance program completed in January.

The review found methadone costs covered by PharmaCare have climbed by an average of 7.6 per cent a year since 2001 to nearly $44 million, making it the program’s second-highest drug cost.

More than 15,000 drug addicts received PharmaCare-funded methadone in 2013 – about 5,200 in Vancouver, 3,400 in Surrey, 1,200 in Burnaby, 1,000 each in Abbotsford and Greater Victoria, and another 2,000 split between Coquitlam, New Westminster and Nanaimo.

The review notes the ministry has for more than a decade dealt with methadone dispensing problems, including the offering of inducements to patients and improper billing.

“There appear to be significant concerns relating to the safety, acceptability, equity and efficiency of the [program],” the review found.

It also pointed to B.C.’s “generous” dispensing fees, including a witnessing fee to make sure patients drink methadone at the pharmacy, that together make it a lucrative business.

Dispensing methadone to a single patient is worth nearly $6,500 a year in fees to a pharmacy net of the drug costs, the review said, and dispensing other drugs to the patient can triple that.

Lake defended B.C.’s policy on fees.

“The witnessing fee is important to ensure that the person who is prescribed the methadone actually takes the methadone, because there is a market value on the street and we want to ensure that the proper person is getting the medication,” he said.

“There’s just a very small number of pharmacists and pharmacies that have been shown be not following the rules.”

Other pharmacies exist near each targeted one, Lake said, and a smooth transition of patients and their prescriptions is expected.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

METHADONE DEALING | Create infographics

Just Posted

Surrey Mounties investigate drive-by shooting in Fleetwood

It happened Monday afternoon in the 8000-block of 153A Street. Police say no victim has been located.

18-year-old to hospital after shots fired in White Rock

Police investigating early-morning incident

UPDATE: White Rock RCMP unaffected by Surrey’s choice of police force, city says

Mayor Darryl Walker to meet with RCMP Staff Sgt. Daryl Creighton

Surrey firefighters tackle blaze at Guildford home

Firefighters have yet to determine what caused the vacant house fire

VIDEO: Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee dies

Marvel co-creator was well-known for making cameo appearances in superhero movies

Calgarians head to the polls to declare ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on Winter Games

The question “are you for or are you against hosting the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games?” was to be posed to them Tuesday in a plebiscite to help determine whether the city should move ahead with a bid.

Heir’s big birthday: 70 candles lined up for Prince Charles

Prince Charles turns 70 Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, still serving in the heir to the throne role he has filled since he was a young child.

Trudeau lays down challenge to companies in bid to boost trade with Asia

“Building the relationships, building the connections, building the facility and also changing mindsets — getting Canadian companies to see the opportunities we have around the world to partner and invest.”

One person sent to hospital after incident at Langley gas station

Police observed retrieving what appeared to be an exacto knife

CNN sues Trump, demanding return of Acosta to White House

CNN is asking for an immediate restraining order to return Acosta to the White House.

Amazon to split second HQ between New York, Virginia

Official decision expected later Tuesday to end competition between North American cities to win bid and its promise of 50,000 jobs

US trial to tell epic tale of Mexican drug lord “El Chapo”

Guzman’s long-awaited U.S. trial begins Tuesday in New York

Northern California wildfire is deadliest in state history

Holding out slim hope as crews search for more fire dead; 42 already killed in blaze

Most Read