• Action 9: Customers claim Walgreens refuses to fill legitimate prescriptions


    ORLANDO, Fla. - Several Walgreens customers contacted Action 9, claiming that the pharmacy chain refuses to fill their pain prescriptions.

    Walgreens has a policy to curb narcotics abuse, but Action 9's Todd Ulrich found that the company won't reveal its guidelines, and its secret policy can punish legitimate customers, too.

    Manuel Rabell's back pain was so bad that his doctor prescribed the potent painkiller hydrocodone. But at Walgreens, the pharmacist refused to fill it, saying that it didn't fit their policy guidelines.

    “So I was like, 'OK, but why? Why this? Why that? Can I see the guidelines?' They said no," Rabell said.

    Later, Walgreens refused to fill Rabell's wife's painkiller prescription.

    “I was shocked, because I was going to the same pharmacy for years,” Lizzette Rabell said.

    At least 10 customers contacted Action 9 with similar complaints.

    Walgreens has a dispensing policy to keep pain pills from being abused, but doesn't share its guidelines.

    There is a document online which is an apparent checklist for Walgreens' pharmacists to use. The checklist questions include: Is it a new prescription? Did the dosage increase? Did the customer pay with cash?

    They are all considered red flags and reasons to deny medicine, and the pharmacy is supposed to notify the Drug Enforcement Agency that the patient was refused.

    “You're sending a letter to the DEA to say what, that I'm a possible pharmacy hopper or drug addict?" Manuel said "You don't know me."

    The denials alarm some medical experts, who said the policy takes better narcotics control way too far.

    “This is what the corporation is deciding to do on its own, and they can't sort out who needs the medicine and who doesn't,” Dr. Deborah Peel of Patient Privacy Rights said. 

    Walgreens paid an $80 million federal fine for filling bogus prescriptions in Florida, so it’s under pressure to control narcotics. But many customers said they're suffering for its mistakes.

    “Right now, I don't trust Walgreens at all,” Lizzette Rabell said.

    This is Walgreens’ response:

    “With the sharp rise in abuse of painkillers in recent years, health care professionals in all practices are continuously striving to find better ways of ensuring those medications are used only for legitimate medical purposes.

    "We firmly believe that addressing prescription drug abuse will require all parties -- including leaders in the community, physicians, distributors and regulators -- to play a role in finding solutions to combating abuse while balancing patient access to critical care.”

    Next Up: