Seminar speaker discusses pharmaceutical case study

SPOKANE, Wash. – On September 18 Sean Dobbin, regional director of pharmacy for Providence Health Care, spoke to the Washington State University (WSU) College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (CPPS) as part of the college’s Preparing for Your Career in Pharmacy Seminar Series. Dr. Dobbin spoke about his experience with a large-scale pharmacy diversion—when a drug is diverted from its intended medical purpose and used illicitly. In this case, pharmaceuticals intended for patients, were diverted into the community illegally.

Dr. Dobbin hoped to increase students’ awareness of response, prevention and detection of diversions. Awareness of such incidents, he said, can help prevent similar incidents at other pharmacies in the future.

There were three main negative impacts of this incident:

  • The increased availability of illegal high-grade pharmaceuticals posed a danger to the community.
  • A disruption to the hospital (the missing drugs became a top priority).
  • The company/hospital/pharmacy risked losing community trust.

According to Dr. Dobbin, the investigation started when a lead pharmacist noticed a large inventory fluctuation. This was reported to hospital leadership, security, and law enforcement. Local police embedded detectives in the pharmacy, and the perpetrator was identified by suspicious behavior and work patterns and was eventually caught stealing drugs.

Looking back over pharmacy records, the hospital found the theft started small with long periods between incidents. Over time the theft increased greatly. The hospital found the perpetrator had adjusted numbers in inventories, and was diverting drugs out of the pharmacy.

In this case study, focus on the potential for break-ins or robberies was one of the many priorities and measures in place to account for and secure medications, including all controlled substances. However, significant trust in employee’s is common in health care and this was the case in the pharmacy.  Dr. Dobbin warned the audience, saying, “employee threat is just as high or higher than external theft risks” and shared that leadership and caregivers must all be diligent and always “trust but verify” all pharmacy accountabilities are in place and effective, including all necessary medication controls and employee oversight.

Some of the changes made to avoid future incidents included the following:

  • implementing additional security measures in the pharmacy computer system and pharmacy staff protocols,
  • expanding their camera view to include the employee area,
  • increased controls and accountably,
  • and limiting access of drug inventories to on-shift staff.

Dr. Dobbin emphasized pharmacies working together and sharing what they learn from such incidents to prevent something similar from happening elsewhere. He encouraged student pharmacists to remember this case study as they start their working lives.

As medication safety and control a paramount responsibility of our profession, “Assume everything you’re asked to check is wrong and validate that it is correct” he said.

Dr. Dobbin graduated from Washington State University in 1993 with a Bachelor of Pharmacy and again in 1995 with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Currently, he is the regional director of pharmacy for Providence Health Care (part of Providence St. Joseph’s Health), representing Providence Holy Family Hospital, Mount Carmel Hospital, Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Providence Medical Group in Spokane and Steven Counties.

The college coordinates this seminar series to introduce student pharmacists to career opportunities and leaders in the pharmacy profession.

The seminars are funded through the WSU CPPS Dean’s Fund for Excellence and our community partner, the Spokane Teachers Credit Union. For information on participating in the career seminar series, or to contribute to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence to help expose WSU student pharmacists to thought-leaders and industry innovators, contact the CPPS advancement office at or 509-358-7651.