FBI says different drug diluted at pharmacist's other store

Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Associated Press WriterKANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Tests show a different medication mixed at another of Robert R. Courtney's pharmacies has been watered down, the FBI said, widening an investigation into the pharmacist accused of weakening medications for profit.

Courtney is charged with diluting the cancer drugs Gemzar and Taxol at his Research Medical Tower Pharmacy in Kansas City, Mo. But now, two samples of the fertility medication progesterone from his store in Merriam, Kan., were shown to be "subpotent," the FBI said late Tuesday.

FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza declined to say Wednesday if Courtney is accused of mixing the progesterone or if someone else is suspected.

"No one has been charged, so we're not naming any suspects," Lanza told The Associated Press. "But there was at least one other pharmacist who worked at the other pharmacy."

The manager for the Merriam store, Greg Geier, said in August that Courtney "has not filled a prescription here for at least five years and probably beyond that."

Lanza said the federal Food and Drug Administration, which examined the progesterone samples, is also testing the potency of other drugs from the Merriam store. Lanza would not say which drugs were being tested or when results were expected.

"This is a pretty significant step in this investigation because now it involves another pharmacy on the Kansas side," Lanza said. "It involves a whole new set of patients, a new set of doctors, and the potential of health ramifications involving these patients."

Courtney has been held without bond since his arrest on Aug. 15. On Aug. 23 he was indicted on 20 federal counts of tampering, adulterating and misbranding two chemotherapy drugs that a Kansas City physician prescribed for her patients. He has pleaded innocent and is scheduled for trial in March.

The Gemzar and Taxol had been diluted to less than 39 percent of their intended potency, the FBI has said. The latest tests do not provide the progesterone's strength, Lanza said.

Jean Paul Bradshaw II, a lawyer for Courtney, said the FBI did not discuss the latest test results with him before announcing the findings.

"That's not something they've asked us about," Bradshaw told The Kansas City Star. "This is the first issue dealing with alleged dilutions they've raised with the Kansas office."

Previously, investigators had focused their attention on Courtney's Missouri pharmacy and discouraged patients from submitting medications obtained elsewhere.

But just after Courtney's alleged dilutions surfaced in August, a woman who had obtained progesterone from the Kansas pharmacy submitted the two samples to the FBI for testing, Lanza said.

Lanza said Wednesday the tests were completed "recently" but were not released until Tuesday evening because of "investigative concerns." He would not elaborate.

Another Courtney attorney, J.R. Hobbs, declined to comment on the latest test results Wednesday.

The Merriam store, called Courtney's Pharmacy, specialized in medications to treat infertility. Progesterone is a steroid hormone secreted by the female reproductive system to prepare a woman's body to accept a fertilized egg.

Investigators working on the Courtney case have also turned up suspicious or subpotent samples of Paraplatin, Platinol, Procrit, Neupogen, Roferon and Zofran, according to court records released last week.

Prosecutors also alleged last week that Courtney phoned family members from jail and asked them to destroy evidence, court records show.

But prosecutors have said Courtney is unlikely to face additional charges until after a jury has heard the case on the initial 20 counts.

Courtney no longer controls the pharmacies from which he dispensed the medications. Just after his indictment, a federal judge froze his assets to keep them available to pay fines and damages.

Last month, Shawnee Mission Medical Center said it would open a new pharmacy at Courtney's Merriam location in January, and Stark Pharmacies Inc. opened a new pharmacy in the space occupied by Courtney's Research Medical Tower Pharmacy.

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