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Report: UM Cancer Center Robbed Of Drugs Valued In Millions

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The University of Miami medical system is reeling after a discovery that $14 million in prescription drugs had gone missing from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center over a three-year period, according to CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald.

It started when a pharmacy buyer hand counted syringes of the cancer drug Neulasta, which costs approximately $2,600 per dose. As the University began to dig deeper, the full scope of the missing medicine.

As a result, pharmacy technician Manuel Gerard Pacheco was charged with four counts of grand theft, two counts of trafficking in contraband prescription drugs, and one count of dealing in stolen property, according to the Herald.

"The first thing that went through my mind is why it wasn't caught sooner," said forensic accountant Michael Kessler. "A hospital should have the ability to account for everything that goes in and everything that goes out."

UM surveillance cameras caught Pacheco allegedly removing boxes of Neulasta. Pacheco allegedly confessed to the thefts in June 2011.

Pacheco, allegedly told authorities that he would sell the drugs to Jose Suarez, who he met while working in a retirement home, according to the Herald. Suarez would pay $1,400 for four boxes of Neulasta which UM had paid roughly $10,000.

According to the Herald, Pacheco consented to a search of his home where investigators found 163 doses of Neulasta and 20 boxes of Aloxi, which is an anti-nausea drug given to chemotherapy patients.

Investigators also found, according to the Herald, doses of Avastin and Oaxlilplatin, Rituxan, Aranesp, and Velcade. Combined, the drugs in Pacheco's refrigerator were valued at $734,639.

The Herald reported that repeated attempts for Pacheco to give the drugs to Suarez with police watching were unsuccessful.

According to the Herald report, UM's chief financial officer Joe Natoli and board member Norman Braman said there were no inventory controls at the cancer pharmacy to keep track of supplies. UM said after the theft was detected, security and controls of medication at Sylvester were strengthened, the Herald reported.

UM released an official statement on the case Tuesday morning:

Rampant theft of pharmaceuticals is an ongoing challenge for pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers throughout the country and particularly in South Florida.  Pharmacies at the University of Miami Health System, including University of Miami Hospital, have tight controls over controlled substances and other costly pharmaceuticals. But controls at one of the pharmacies — at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center — failed to quickly detect the employee theft of expensive non-controlled substances, actually life-saving chemotherapy drugs for cancer patients.  As soon as the theft was detected, physical security and inventory controls of pharmaceuticals at Sylvester were reviewed and strengthened.  A subsequent three-day audit by the federal Office of Pharmacy Affairs determined that the Sylvester pharmacy was in full compliance with the agency's requirements for procurement, inventory control and safeguards against diversion.  The University is seeking reimbursement for losses from the employee and its insurance carrier.

Forensic accountant Steve Berlin of the firm Foodman & Associates believes proper inventory controls were not in place at UM.

"So it would be easy for somebody to walk in, take the drugs which this guy did, put it in his pocket, and leave without anybody finding out," he said. "Had the controls not been instituted, it would probably still be going on."

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Miami Herald contributed to this report.)

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