More than $14 million worth of prescription drugs went missing from a University of Miami cancer center over a three-year period, leading to the arrest of a pharmacy technician and questions about how so many doses of drugs could disappear.
The thefts were discovered following the 2011 arrest of Manuel Gerardo Pacheco, a pharmacy tech at UM's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, according to The Miami Herald.
According to the Herald, the investigation began in May 2011, when a UM pharmacy buyer noticed hundreds of syringes of Neulasta, a cancer drug that costs around $2,600 per dose, were missing.
An audit later found a discrepancy of 680 units of Neulasta between purchases and units dispensed between December 2010 and April 2011.
“These drugs were extremely, very strong, potent specialized drugs that could save lives, and unfortunately they were somewhere placed out in the black market," Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told NBC 6 South Florida.
Investigators focused on Pacheco, who had recently purchased a $56,000 BMW without getting a loan. In June 2011, security cameras caught Pacheco take several boxes of Neulasta from a refrigerator and slip them into his lab coat, according to the Herald.
When he did the same thing the next day, Pacheco was confronted by investigators, who found four boxes of Neulasta and 12 small vials of Aloxi, an anti-nausea medication, in his lab coat, the Herald report said. The value of those drugs was $12,416.
Pacheco confessed to the thefts, saying he'd taken four doses of Neulasta at a time from the refrigerator since November 2010. He was later charged with four counts of grand theft, two counts of trafficking in contraband prescription drugs and one count of dealing in stolen property. He has pleaded not guilty.
Investigators later found drugs in a refrigerator at Pacheco's home worth some $734,639.18, the Herald report said. A financial analysis group hired by UM said Pacheco's thefts over a three-year period totaled $14,358,637.
Pacheco’s attorney, David S. Markus, acknowledged in court filings that "there is evidence that the defendant committed theft," but told the Herald Pacheco is a "scapegoat."
"They’re scapegoating my client, trying to blame him for the whole $14 million when it was really open season at the pharmacy where anyone could have taken things because the controls weren’t there," Markus said.
The university's Miller School of Medicine released a statement says its past controls on cancer center drugs failed to detect the theft of several expensive cancer drugs.
"Rampant theft of pharmaceuticals is an ongoing challenge for pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers throughout the country and particularly in South Florida. Pharmacies at the University of Miami Health System, including University of Miami Hospital, have tight controls over controlled substances and other costly pharmaceuticals," the statement read. "But controls at one of the pharmacies – at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center – failed to quickly detect the employee theft of expensive non-controlled substances, actually life-saving chemotherapy drugs for cancer patients."
The school now said controls of pharmaceuticals were reviewed and strengthened, and that they're now seeking reimbuirsement from the employee and its insurance carrier.
“I think the big problem is oversight," said Dr. Michelle Powell of Powell Health Solutions. "Unfortunately someone had access to medication and there was no oversight to see how they moved in and out.”