GRAND jury indicts pharmacist on 20 new counts in case of diluted cancer drugs

Friday, August 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Federal authorities are adding more agents to their investigation of a millionaire pharmacist who was indicted on 20 new counts of mislabeling and tampering with potentially lifesaving chemotherapy drugs.

``This investigation is a long way from being completed. To the contrary, it is just beginning,'' FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza said Thursday. He said 30 new agents and support staff would arrive next week to join the 50 already on the case.

Robert R. Courtney, 48, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on eight counts of tampering with consumer products, six of adulteration of a drug and six of misbranding a drug.

The charges replace a complaint filed Aug. 14 accusing Courtney of a single felony count of misbranding and adulteration of a drug.

Investigators said samples they tested contained generally less than half of the drugs prescribed and one chemotherapy mixture was nearly pure saline.

Authorities say Courtney _ who allegedly saved hundreds of dollars per dose _ was motivated by profit and $600,000 in looming tax bills.

Courtney's attorney, Jean Paul Bradshaw, said he didn't expect any further charges.

``The FBI always says they will continue their investigation,'' said Bradshaw, a former U.S. attorney in Kansas City. ``The charges today are what I believe will be filed in this case.''

Courtney is being held without bond after a judge called him a danger to the community and a flight risk.

Prosecutors have said they believe Courtney may have diluted at least 150 intravenous bags for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. But Thursday's indictments appear to involve far fewer cases, though prosecutors and FBI agents say the ongoing investigation may involve hundreds of patients.

The adulteration and misbranding counts involve six alleged dilutions over two days, Aug. 7 and Aug. 13. The eight tampering counts involve various individual preparations of chemotherapy drugs which Courtney allegedly prepared for patients of Kansas City oncologist Verda Hunter.

Bradshaw has insisted the dilutions affected 30 to 35 patients under the care of a single doctor.

``We are dealing with a limited number of patients from one doctor over a three- or four-month period, rather than some of the outrageous figures that have come to be reported almost as fact,'' Bradshaw said.

But a Kansas City doctors group has been trying to contact more than 700 cancer patients it said received treatments with drugs prepared at Courtney's pharmacy over the past five years.

More than 1,700 patients and doctors have called a hot line authorities have set up to search for people who had prescriptions filled by Courtney's pharmacy.