Get tough with drug seekers, know methods

Ex-cop advises EDs to be aware

Whether you use a list or not, the best way to deal with drug seekers in your ED is to get tough with them, says John Burke, commander of the Warren County (OH) Drug Task Force in Cincinnati, and a former police officer.

Burke is an expert on prescription drug diversion in health care, and he says ED managers can discourage drug seekers from visiting their EDs over and over again by sending a message that they won’t coddle them.

For starters, he advises, EDs should have a policy of calling the police whenever a drug seeker attempts to obtain prescription drugs illegally, whether by using a forged description, false identification, or any other clearly improper means.

"I guarantee you that if people get the idea you’re going to call the police when they try to scam you out of drugs, they won’t keep coming back to your ED," Burke stresses.

They may go across town to the ED that doesn’t contact the authorities instead, he says.

"Word spreads, and you want your ED to have the reputation as one that isn’t going to just roll over and take that kind of misbehavior when you have real patients to treat," Burke adds.

He also urges ED managers to institute a policy that staff will not tell people by phone which physicians are on duty.

Drug seekers often will call the ED to see what doctors are working because they want to avoid someone who has busted them before or they want to see a physician they know is a soft touch.

Also be cautious with medical residents or any staff and physicians new to emergency medicine, Burke says. Drug seekers will take advantage of their inexperience.

"They know that some doctors have seen their kind for years and won’t fall for it," he notes. "But when they spot someone who might not be so experienced, they’ll pull out all the tricks."


For more information on stopping drug seekers, contact:

  • John Burke, Pharmaceutical Diversion Education, P.O. Box 146, Bethel, OH 45106. Phone: (800) 566-2049. E-mail: