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Pharmacist Accused of Watering Down Cancer Drugs

A druggist in Kansas City, Missouri, surrendered to the FBI today, charged with a shocking crime that amounts to a huge betrayal of the trust and health of cancer patients.

Prosecutors believe the druggist deliberately diluted life-saving chemotherapy drugs, and hundreds of patients may have been treated with them. It's alleged the druggist cut the dosage but charged full price to boost his profit margin. CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers has the report.

Kansas City pharmacist Robert Courtney was taken into custody today, charged with diluting chemotherapy drugs, but federal officials say what he did, in essence, was rob cancer patients of a fighting chance to live.

Chris Whitley of the US Attorney's Office says, "It chills the spine to think that this sort of thing was going on."

This all started when a salesman for Eli Lilly, which makes the cancer-fighting drug Gemzar, noticed a discrepancy between the amount the Research Medical Tower Pharmacy ordered and the amount it sold to a local doctor. Investigators set up a sting, and when they ran tests on IV bags of Gemzar and another drug, Taxol, they were floored.

"We moved quickly to find who might be hurt," says Whitley.

A bag that was supposed to contain 300 milligrams of Taxol was found to have only 83 milligrams, and in the worst case a bag labelled 2,400 milligrams revealed no traces of Gemzar.

Money might be the motive. One treatment of Gemzar cost patients more than $1,000. The lab says what they got was worth less than a quarter of that.

These chemotherapy drugs are usually used to fight the most deadly forms of the disease, including advanced breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. Doctors say diluting these drugs to any degree could be more dangerous than not giving them at all.

Oncologist Dr. William Gradishar of Northwestern Medical Center says, "We're robbing the patient of the potential for an antitumor effect but still putting them at risk for the side effects."

The FBI is now racing the clock to track down what they fear could be hundreds of people who got diluted doses.

The pharmaceutical industry says cases like this are extremely rare and points out that good faith between pharmacists and patients is of paramount importance.

Susan Winkler of the American Pharmaceutical Association says, "It's why you should take as much care in choosing your pharmacist as you do in choosing a doctor."

Robert Courtney's family says there's an explanation, but the FBI says there is no excuse: Treatment wasn't the only thing taken from cancer patients. Precious time was lost, as well.
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