Pharmacist who admitted diluting drugs may have affected 4,200 patients, authorities say

Saturday, April 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A Kansas City-area pharmacist who admitted watering down chemotherapy drugs now acknowledges he diluted several other drugs that may have affected 4,200 patients, according to federal authorities.

FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza said Friday that Robert R. Courtney had admitted diluting such other drugs as antibiotics and blood-clotting agents _ 72 types of medicine in all _ ordered by 400 doctors.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said it was working with state and federal authorities to notify doctors and potential victims.

Courtney originally admitted diluting two chemotherapy drugs between November 2000 and May 2001, affecting 34 patients. Courtney now tells investigators he began watering down drugs in 1992. They believe he diluted 98,000 prescriptions.

Courtney, 49, pleaded guilty in February to 20 counts of tampering and adulterating or misbranding the chemotherapy drugs Taxol and Gemzar. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend 17 1/2 to 30 years _ instead the 196-year sentence he may have faced _ as long as he agreed to disclose the full extent of his criminal conduct to federal investigators.

Prosecutors say Courtney pocketed hundreds of ill-gotten dollars per dose.

The U.S. Attorney's office said all the drugs Courtney claims were diluted were administered intravenously or through injections. None were oral medications.

Word that Courtney had admitted diluting additional drugs generated even more outrage from family members of cancer victims who are suing Courtney.

``Killing wouldn't be good enough for him,'' said Wayne Grimes, who is suing Courtney for the cancer death of his wife, Dolores, last August.

Grimes also said the case reveals that the drug distribution system is too lax.

``If he's selling $200,000 worth and buying $50,000 worth, shouldn't he get caught?'' he asked.

Lanza acknowledged that there's no way to know for sure if Courtney is telling the truth about the additional diluted drugs. But Lanza added, ``He has no motivation to lie about this.''

Courtney's attorney, J.R. Hobbs, declined to talk in detail about his client's new admissions.

The pharmacist, who has been jailed since August, has said he began diluting medications to help pay more than $600,000 in taxes and fulfill a $1 million pledge to his church.

Courtney has been stripped of his pharmacy licenses and forced to sell two pharmacies, in Kansas City and in suburban Merriam, Kan. He also faces a possible fine of $15 million and about 300 civil lawsuits accusing him of fraud and wrongful death.

Some of the lawsuits also accuse two pharmaceutical companies _ Eli Lilly & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. _ of knowing about the dilutions and doing nothing. Both have denied any wrongdoing.