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Monster behind the counter



Published: Wed, August 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



If the accusations against Robert R. Courtney are proved true there is only one word to describe him: monster. By definition, that is a person so depraved, cruel or wicked as to horrify fellow human beings.

The accusations against Courtney are clearly horrifying.

Courtney is the Kansas City pharmacist charged in federal court with providing patients diluted doses of anti-cancer drugs. There's evidence he did it not once or twice, but dozens of times.

And he did it not out of carelessness or sloppiness, but out of a premeditated desire to increase the profits of his company.

And he sought those increased profits not because he needed the money -- he was worth an estimated $10 million -- but out of pure greed.

One or more of the patients who received diluted drugs from Courtney's pharmacy is dead, but it will be difficult, if not impossible, to prove that the death was attributable to improper medication.

Cruel uncertainty: But what is known is that hundreds of patients who received medication prepared by Courtney are now faced with the possibility that they did not receive the dosage of life-saving drugs that their physicians prescribed for them. People whose lives were changed the day their doctors told them they had cancer must now adjust anew to haunting uncertainties about the treatment they received.

If he did this, Courtney is a monster of the first rank.

Chemotherapy is an expensive proposition, but one that patients are willing to pursue despite the cost and despite the sometimes debilitating side effects. They see it as the only option to an early death.

They entrust their very lives to their caregivers and have every reason to expect that their physicians, pharmacists, nurses, technicians and therapists will provide treatment to the very best of their professional abilities. Millions of times every day health care professionals perform over and above what can be expected of them. And then there is Richard Courtney.

What happened: Courtney had an extremely lucrative business filling chemotherapy prescriptions for a number of oncologists, including five who practiced from the same office building. When that practice moved, the doctors took their business to another pharmacist, and Courtney, federal prosecutors say, started scrimping on prescriptions to make up for lost profits.

An affidavit provides one example: A prescription for 1,900 milligrams of Gemzar costs $1,021. But Courtney provided only 450 milligrams, which was worth $242. He skimmed $779 on that one prescription alone.

Courtney is now being held without bond, as well he should. If there's any justice, government investigators will be able to prove 10 or 20 or 30 such frauds perpetrated on his patients, and the 48-year-old pharmacist will never take another free breath.




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