A Burbank pharmacy that dispensed painkillers and other narcotics to five young patients who later died of overdoses had its license revoked Monday after the state pharmacy board found that its employees failed to properly scrutinize prescriptions that contributed to patient deaths.
The pharmacy, Jay Scott Drugs on Glenoaks Boulevard, catered to patients of doctors Bernard Bass and Massoud Bamdad, both of whom were later convicted of crimes in connection with their prescribing.
Pharmacists are required by law to scrutinize prescriptions, size up customers and refuse to dispense a drug if they suspect a patient does not have a legitimate medical need for it.
Many of Bass' patients were in their 20s and traveled more than 40 miles from their homes in Ventura County to see Bass in North Hollywood, and then another five miles to Jay Scott Drugs where they typically paid cash for a combination of prescription drugs favored by addicts. Though Bamdad was a general practitioner, three-quarters of the prescriptions his patients filled at the store were for painkillers or other commonly abused drugs, the California Board of Pharmacy alleged.
The board faulted lead pharmacist Albert Daher and two colleagues for unquestioningly filling prescriptions, despite multiple red flags that should have caused them to become suspicious. The board's decision noted that the pharmacy "received huge financial gains" of about $1.7 million from Bass' prescriptions.
During an interview in his store Monday, Daher said he felt unfairly targeted by the board and resented the notion that he put profit before patient care.
"I am not a bad person," he said.
Four Bass patients between the ages of 21 and 31 died of overdoses over the span of a month in 2008 after filling prescriptions at Jay Scott Drugs. A fifth patient fatally overdosed at age 23 after filling a prescription from Bamdad, according to pharmacy board documents.
Among those who died was 22-year-old Andrew Snay. An empty pill vial listing Bass as the doctor and Jay Scott Drugs as the pharmacy was on the night table next his body, according to the board's decision.
The board faulted the pharmacy for feeding the addictions of four other patients who later died with the same kinds of drugs that were filled at Jay Scott Drugs. Even if there was insufficient evidence to prove that the lethal pills were the same ones obtained at Jay Scott, the board's decision said the pharmacy had been routinely filling the prescriptions and therefore fueling addiction.
"If [the Jay Scott pharmacists] contributed to the drug addiction, they contributed to the end result: Death," the 47-page report by board President Stan C. Weisser said. The revocation order was issued Dec. 27 and took effect Monday.
The board took the unusual step of rejecting the proposed decision of Administrative Law Judge Daniel Juarez, who presided over a 16-day hearing that ended last June.
Juarez found that Bass — but not Bamdad — had an obvious prescribing pattern and patient profiles that should have drawn the attention of Daher and his colleagues. He also found that the pharmacists committed professional misconduct by dismissing the long distances traveled by patients and cash payments for commonly abused narcotics as red flags for abuse.
The judge wrote that he found no evidence that Daher or any of the pharmacists had "an improper alliance" with Bass or Bamdad. Their transgressions, he wrote, were committed "without the intention of violating the law."
Juarez wrote that the evidence did not prove that the drugs dispensed by Daher contributed to any of the deaths, including Snay's.
Juarez concluded that license revocation would be "too severe" and recommended a five-year probationary term.
The board disagreed and imposed revocation.
Daher's lawyers requested a stay from a judge Friday so the store could remain open pending an appeal, but it was denied.
On Monday morning, Daher and his employees scrambled to deal with about 7,000 prescriptions that needed to be filled within the next few days, the vast majority for elderly patients in nursing homes, he said.
"They are hurting over 5,000 patients as we speak right now," he said from behind the counter of the pharmacy, which was closed for business due to the revocation. "I had people crying in here yesterday."
Daher, who broke into tears himself at one point, said he was devastated when he learned of patient deaths, including that of Snay, whose mother, Kim, confronted him at the pharmacy.
Daher did not accept blame for Snay's death, but said he still thought of the young man and his family.
"I've prayed the rosary every day for the past several years so that they can have peace and I can have peace," he said. "And I pray for forgiveness."
Daher said he raised concerns about Bass' prescriptions with a medical board investigator and pharmacy board officials before the deaths but was not told to stop filling them. He also pointed out that an earlier investigation based on the same evidence ended with an investigator determining there was "insufficient evidence" against him.
"I made my case in court, and I think I won it," he said.
Ron and Arlene Clyburn, the parents of 23-year-old Alex Clyburn, who fatally overdosed after filling a prescription at Jay Scott, said in an email that they were gratified by the board's decision.
"The pharmacy is one link in the chain of people illegally supplying prescription drugs to the public for the sole purpose of making money off the misery of others," they wrote.
Kim Snay said she was surprised and delighted by the decision. "The system took a long time, but it does work," she said.