When DEA comes knockin'

When DEA comes knockin'

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May 01, 2004

Las Vegas-The U.S. Drug Enforce-ment Administration (DEA) doesn't do spot checks or make social calls. If agents or investigators visit a veterinary practice, there's a problem. There also are plenty of ways to deal with and safeguard against such predicaments.

That's Dr. Alistair Webb's advice to practitioners. Webb, a University of Florida veterinary college professor who regularly sits down with DEA agents, says no practitioner is immune to inquiries. Although DEA officials refuse to estimate the number of DVMs targeted or what piques the agency's interest, Webb insists there are common sense routes to steering clear of investigations. Maintaining the profile of a trustworthy veterinarian is one of them.

"I know the DEA considers veterinarians fairly risk-free compared to other professionals, especially physicians," Webb says. "But veterinarians have more unsupervised contact with drugs; they have all their pain meds by the syringe and bottleful while everyone else has to write scripts. That's a big deal."

Inventory control The easiest way to stave off DEA is by maintaining a running inventory of pharmaceuticals, especially schedule II painkillers, which are targets for theft and should be stored separately from other drugs, under lock and key. Anyone in the clinic can prompt an investigation by stealing, which makes inventory important, Webb says.

DEA mandates a physical inventory of all drugs in the clinic to be completed every two years, signed with the hospital's address and DEA registration number, Webb says.

"Count the number of tablets, and everything else you want to eyeball," he says. "Keep minimal supplies. Log the date, client, species, drug and quantity, and log every time a drug is used in patient records. Schedule II drugs should be recorded separately. I can't stress enough how important this is."

If drugs turn up missing, be honest about it, Webb adds. Inform the local police department, review the hospital's security and make sure all records are in good order before contacting DEA, he says.

Keep licenses current The DEA also is alerted when licenses aren't up to date. For $390, practitioners can obtain a DEA license by filling out form 224 and sending it to a local DEA office. The license is valid for three years, Webb says.

"It's rather easy if you're a veterinarian to get a DEA license," he says. "Just one veterinarian needs it per practice. If you have two practices with stored drugs, you need two DEA licenses."

Store the license in a drawer, he adds. "Don't frame it and hang it on the wall. You don't want the public knowing you have good drugs on board."

When things go bad Licenses and inventory control won't always keep DEA at bay. Officers who want to search a practice's pharmacy will arrive unannounced during normal business hours and likely will ask for voluntary consent to search records and drug storage areas.

"If they come to your practice, they want something," Webb says. "You have a right to refuse inspection, but it won't do much good. They'll just come back with a warrant."

Still, don't take them on a tour of the hospital, he says. "Offer them a cup of coffee and take them to your drug storage and your records. Don't insult them or treat them like a bad client, but at the same time, don't give them more information than they need."

Get a lawyer If the situation seems threatening, contact legal counsel immediately, Webb says. If convicted on DEA charges, punishment can range from jail sentences and fines to lost licenses and letters of reprimand.

"Casual inquiries do not exist with the DEA," he says. "If the DEA comes in and it's clear you are becoming a target, contact a lawyer. Keep in mind a DEA 'notice of inspection' reads like a Miranda warning."