Investigations reveal prescription drug racket

Investigations by a joint team of the Financial Crimes Unit (SDOE) and the National Organization for Medicines (EOF) trying to get to the bottom of a medicine shortage at Greek pharmacies have so far discovered some five medical wholesalers and around 600-700 pharmacies reselling prescription medications at a higher price abroad.

Deputy Health Minister Marios Salmas said that a file with the findings will be sent to a prosecutor for further investigation, while the names of the parties involved have been forwarded to the Panhellenic Pharmacists’ Association, which will decide whether to take disciplinary action.

Investigators looking into allegations that both medicine suppliers and dispensers may be involved in illegal exports and sales of drugs, uncovered evidence suggesting that a number of medical warehouses, or wholesalers, were illegally purchasing medicines from pharmacies at a discount on the market price without value-added tax, compensating them for their loss of profit. The drugs were then being exported to other countries where they carried a higher cost, with the wholesalers pocketing the difference.

Salmas said that such activities are partly to blame for the shortage of certain drugs in the Greek market, adding that stiffer penalties will be introduced for trafficking in prescription medication.

In one example of how the racket operates, a wholesaler in the Athenian suburb of Kallithea, which operated as a subsidiary of a Bulgarian firm with the same Greek owner, was exporting and invoicing drugs to the firm in the neighboring Balkan country, which then resold them to dispensaries in the UK and Germany at a higher cost. From late December 2011 and through mid-January of this year, 202 pharmacies were found to have supplied the wholesaler with drugs.

In another case, a pharmacy in central Athens was found to have directly exported 930 boxes of a particular medication, with a total worth of 721,665 euros, between June 2010 and June 2011, while its inventory showed that it had purchased just two packets of the drug in the same period.

Investigators believe that the specific pharmacy was being supplied with the drug by employees at public hospitals and pharmacies run by the IKA Social Security Foundation. According to Salmas, the pharmacist was being supplied the drug by, among others, an ophthalmology professor who used his credentials to obtain the medication and then delivered it to the pharmacists in person, packaged in boxes. The doctor allegedly received 350 euros for each package of the medication, which was then sold on by the pharmacist abroad.

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