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Third Bemidji pharmacist disciplined after drug overdose incident

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The St. Cloud Times has reported that a Bemidji pharmacist will surrender his license to practice pharmacy in Minnesota and pay a $10,000 fine as part of an investigation into the distribution of painkillers through the Internet, the director of the state Board of Pharmacy said.

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Thomas A. Thompson is the third pharmacist from Market Pharmacy to be sanctioned from an investigation that began shortly after the death of Justin Pearson of St. Cloud. Market Pharmacy dispensed painkillers to Pearson, who later died from a prescription drug overdose, the Times reported.

The state Board of Pharmacy in July disciplined two Market Pharmacy pharmacists for violations of U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency rules that prohibit dispensing controlled substances to a patient without a legitimate doctor/patient relationship. Thompson, who was the owner and pharmacist-in-charge of Market Pharmacy, was cited for violating the same DEA rules and several state rules in a stipulation released Monday by the Board of Pharmacy.

In an interview with the Pioneer last month, Thompson said he believed the practice was legal. "I thought at the time what we were doing was legal," said Thompson, who owned the pharmacy for 30 years before selling it May 15.

In his research at the time, Thompson said he found that prescriptions could be filled from any physician or physician assistant with a state medical license and U.S. DEA license, which allows physicians and physician assistants to prescribe controlled substances.

Dan Pearson said Monday that his son, Justin, had a pill bottle containing a few tablets of alprazolam in his room at the time he died. The bottle indicated that the prescription was filled Dec. 13, 2006, at Market Pharmacy, and Board of Pharmacy records indicate that Thompson admitted filling a 90-tablet prescription for alprazolam on Dec. 13, 2006, for a patient identified as Patient #1.

Dan Pearson has said that his son is the person identified as Patient #1 in the stipulations against Thompson and the other Bemidji pharmacists. The two other Bemidji pharmacists received fines of $5,000 and $1,000, respectively, and were placed on probation by the board.

Those two pharmacists were sanctioned in July along with two Byron pharmacists who were cited for violating a state law passed in response to Justin Pearson's death. "Justin's Law" requires a face-to-face visit between patient and doctor and prohibits pharmacies from filling prescriptions they know are not based on a legitimate medical relationship.

Board of Pharmacy records indicate that Market Pharmacy dispensed 4,389 orders for controlled substances through SOSmeds.com in the 15 months from April 2006, to June 26, 2007.

That is an average of 292 orders a month, and the board's order indicates those drugs went to patients in 16 states. The drugs included alprazolam, which is identified as a tranquilizer, and hydrocodone.

The order indicates that Market Pharmacy received the orders through SOSmeds.com, a Web site that has since ceased operation.

The sanctions against the pharmacists are for filling prescriptions written by out-of-state physicians who didn't consult with patients before writing them prescriptions.

The complaints involving the Byron and Bemidji pharmacies are the only such complaints that have been investigated regarding prescriptions being filled through the Internet, said Cody Wiberg, director of the state Board of Pharmacy.

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