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Thousands Of Diluted Drug Doses

The pharmacist who admitted watering down the drugs of 34 cancer victims has acknowledged he diluted dozens of drugs over the past decade, possibly affecting 4,200 patients, federal authorities said Friday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office acknowledged it could not conclusively confirm the claim but said it was working with state and federal authorities to notify doctors and potential victims.

Robert R. Courtney, 49, pleaded guilty in February to diluting chemotherapy drugs 158 times for 34 patients. Prosecutors say he pocketed hundreds of ill-gotten dollars per dose.

As part of the plea deal, Courtney was required to disclose his criminal activities and those of others.

Authorities said they now believe he diluted 98,000 prescriptions, issued through about 400 doctors, potentially affecting about 4,200 patients.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the more than 60 drugs Courtney claims were diluted were administered intravenously or through injections. None were oral medications or dispensed in pill or tablet form.

Courtney's attorney, J.R. Hobbs, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

State agencies in Kansas and Missouri on Wednesday received the information they need to begin notifying doctors who may have been affected.

Courtney pleaded guilty to 20 federal counts of tampering and adulterating or misbranding the chemotherapy drugs Taxol and Gemzar. He also acknowledged that he and his corporation, Courtney Pharmacy Inc., weakened the drugs Platinol and Paraplatin, conspired to traffic in stolen drugs and caused the filing of false Medicare claims.

Prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of between 17 1/2 and 30 years behind bars. Courtney also faces up to $15 million in fines, while his estimated assets of more than $10 million will be used as restitution for victims.

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 about 300 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.

At the time of his plea, Courtney said he never thought of the consequences of diluting the drugs and did not mean to harm anyone.

"I am guilty and I accept full responsibility," he said. "To the victims, I am extremely sorry."

By Josh Freed

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