The scam seems almost too simple to be true. Ordinary patients are sent to pharmacies with fake prescriptions for cancer drugs. The boxes are then recovered by traffickers and then illegally resold abroad. Since the first reports at the end of 2019, this type of scam is “sharply increasing“, according to Health Insurance. And the authorities are struggling to stem it.
It must be said that the principle of this scam is well established, and is based on the weaknesses of the French healthcare system. The proof: franceinfo was able to obtain one of these fake prescriptions in a few hours.
— Charles Prats APM ⚖️ (@CharlesPrats) August 3, 2022
All you have to do is spot an advertisement on social networks. The one we have chosen features, on a musical background, a fake doctor, beard and white coat, who promises future recruits a remuneration of several hundred euros a day. The only condition required: to be reimbursed at 100% or to benefit from the CMU (universal health coverage). The detail is important: it will make it possible to recover the drugs without having to advance the money.
Everything then happens on encrypted Telegram messaging. In a few minutes, an interlocutor answers us.
After sending our name, first name, age and city, a fake prescription arrives in our mailbox. She looks like a real one. We find the header of a Parisian hospital, the name of a doctor, and the treatment prescribed: a drug against ovarian cancer at more than 4,500 euros a box. For some treatments, the price can go up to 14,000 euros per box.
According to our interlocutor, all you have to do is pick up the medicine at the pharmacy and then hand it over to him for cash: 200 euros for one box, 1,000 euros for four.
According to OCLAESP, the central office for combating damage to health and the environment, these drugs are then resold abroad. But they are often, says OCLAESP, transported in such poor conditions that they are no longer effective once there. But the crooks, they make a comfortable margin: several hundred or even several thousand euros on each box, all on the back of the Health Insurance.
Asked by franceinfo, the National Health Insurance Fund does not provide any figures on the overall damage, but an example gives an idea of the cost for the French healthcare system: in the space of a single year, two hospitals recently estimated to more than four million euros the amount embezzled thanks to false prescriptions made in their name.
Since the first reports at the end of 2019, the National Health Insurance Fund has been talking about a phenomenon “sharply increasing“. Several hospitals and doctors have seen their names usurped and reused on prescriptions. On our false prescription, it is the name of a radiologist from the Marseille region who appears, for example, attached to the Parisian hospital of Lariboisière where he has never worked. Contacted by franceinfo, his firm confirms that he regularly receives reports from local pharmacists, “up to 3 or 4 per week“, “tens” for a year. The doctor filed a complaint last November.
This is also the case for the European hospital in Marseille, whose name appears on several false prescriptions. The private establishment confirms, there too, having been alerted twice, in December and last April. Two complaints were filed. Since then, the hospital has ensured that it works in close collaboration with pharmacies, which contact it at the slightest doubt about a prescription. With this system,fifteen“false prescriptions have been spotted since the beginning of the year, according to the establishment.
For their part, pharmacists are trying to do with the means at hand, but the task is more and more complicated, recognizes Alain Delgutte of the National Order of Pharmacists: “Thehe quality of counterfeit prescriptions has improved significantly and may require the vigilance of pharmacists“.
“At the beginning the prescriptions were quite rough, and besides that is why there were alerts. Now, there are no more spelling mistakes, we even sometimes have the doctor’s stamp with an RPPS number (official number for healthcare professionals).”Alain Delgutte, National Order of Pharmacists
Despite the improvement of the system, the investigations sometimes succeed. Last May, 14 people were sentenced by the Mulhouse court. The couple at the head of the network, which sent the drugs to Egypt, received seven years in prison. The young man recruited on social networks to fetch the drugs with a false prescription was sentenced to one year in prison, including six months.
But the threat of a conviction and the vigilance of professionals are not enough to stop this fraud. The Order of Pharmacists and the National Health Insurance Fund rely on a much more effective means, according to them: e-prescriptions. Prescriptions kept on a secure server, with a QR code system. The government has promised to have it in place by the end of 2024.