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Tampering With Drugs Could Become a Crime Under Missouri Law

February 28, 2002
By: Javier Solano
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1029

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri pharmacist who pleaded guilty to giving diluted drugs to dozens of cancer patients would have gotten a legal slap on the wrist if prosecuted under Missouri law.

Instead, Robert Courtney, who pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to 20 counts of adulterating, tampering with and mislabeling chemotherapy drugs, will spend the next 17 to 30 years in prison without parole.

Under Missouri law, however, his actions would only have constituted a misdemeanor.

But a bill under consideration in the Missouri House would make such a crime a felony.

"The whole purpose of the bill is to make it a felony so that if copy-cat crimes arise in Joplin or Springfield or St. Joe -- a smaller community -- our local prosecutors will be able to handle that. He won't have to the US Attorney," said the bill's sponsor -- Rep. Susan C. Phillips, R-Kansas City.

Phillips said she started looking into how Missouri law dealt with this crime last year she heard that the pharmacist was facing federal charges.

"We should we able to trust our pharmacist just like we trust our police, and fire or our minister...A pharmacist is not anyone I would ever question, but I think probably the whole state, and probably the whole country is questioning them," Phillips said.

Courtney entered Tuesday a plea agreement in a U.S. District Court on Tuesday to 20 federal counts of tampering and adulterating chemotherapy drugs.

"I've uncovered in my daily devotions...no rational explanation for this conduct. I conclude I wanted to get caught by the flagrantness of the adulterations," Courtney said.

Under the agreement, Courtney will spend between 17 and a half and 30 years in prison without parole.

Phillips said her personal situation affected her deecision to sponsor the bill.

"I have had cancer myself. I had breast cancer...So, when the issue came up in Kansas City I was very aware of that. The pharmacist actually lives in my district...and I have constituents who he has mixed their drugs. So, that created my interest," " said Phillips.

Tampering with pharmaceuticals would be a class B felony under her bill. However, if death or serious injury occurs as a result of tampering with a pharmaceutical, it would become a class A felony -- the most serious felony.

The bill is now before the House Criminal Law Committee. The committee's chairman -- Rep. Craig Hosmer D-Springfield -- said that things like this shouldn't happen again.

"Once something like this happens, there are going to be people that may try this type of behaviour. It's basically a motivation for profit," Hosmer said.