A pharmaceutical sting operation at King’s Pharmacy last November nabbed what the company owner says is the latest in a history of Houston-based fraud efforts; A Jefferson County grand jury indicted the accused 21-year-old actor on March 2.
According to a probable cause affidavit noting the alleged crime of Malcolm, aka “Malcom”, Richmond resident Xavier Harris, a pharmacy employee contacted the Beaumont Police Department (BPD) on November 29, 2021, in reference to a man “on the phone communicating a fraudulent promethazine-codeine prescription to a Malcolm Harris.
Asked about the process and the difficulty of identifying fraudulent prescriptions, King’s Pharmacy owner and chief pharmacist Dr Greg Hamby told The Examiner: “It’s pretty easy.”
“Now, are any of us getting past us? May be. But with some of the new strategies or regulations in place for prescribers, I think it’s harder for individuals to push that through,” he explained. “Maybe it was easier to do in the past when some of the new regulations or expectations weren’t in place.”
According to the charging document detailing Harris’ crime, he walked outside the business and made contact with an employee, showing a driver’s license and identifying himself as Harris. Little did Harris know, the pharmacy had coordinated a sting with BPD to arrest the man for attempting to fraudulently obtain a prescription between Harris’ initial call and his arrival. While the transaction was in progress, the affidavit states, narcotics officers “contacted Harris and took him into custody.”
Officers found a black Ruger 57 on Harris’ person, and the man admitted to officers that he was not authorized to carry said firearm. Police arrested him after the dispatch informed Harris that he had outstanding warrants in Jefferson County.
During a police interview, Harris told detectives he had arrived at King’s Pharmacy to buy a prescription he “knew was fraudulent”.
“Harris said his intention was to obtain the prescription and sell it to another person for an undetermined amount in US currency,” the detectives wrote in their report.
Cough syrup craze
According to a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), some over-the-counter and prescription cough and cold medicines contain active ingredients that are psychoactive (mind-altering) in doses greater than those recommended and are frequently abused for this purpose.
“These products may also contain other drugs, such as expectorants and antihistamines, which are dangerous in large doses and increase the dangers of abuse,” the report states. “Promethazine-Codeine Cough Syrup, a drug that contains codeine, an opioid that acts as a cough suppressant and can also produce relaxation and euphoria when consumed in higher doses than prescribed. It also contains promethazine HCl, an antihistamine that also acts as a sedative.
Drinking promethazine-codeine cough syrup mixed with soda (a combination called syrup, sizzurp, drank purple, bar, or lean) was frequently mentioned in some popular music from the late 1990s onwards, the report details, and has become increasingly popular among young people in many parts of the country. A variant of “purple drank” is promethazine-codeine cough syrup mixed with alcohol.
When taken in larger amounts or when such symptoms are not present, according to NIDA findings, the drug combo can affect the brain in much the same way as illegal drugs.
“When taken in high doses, (the cough medicine) acts on the same cell receptors as dissociative hallucinogenic drugs like PCP or ketamine,” the report states. “Users describe effects ranging from mild stimulation to alcohol or marijuana intoxication, and in high doses, feelings of physical distortion and hallucinations.
“Codeine binds to the same cell receptors targeted by illegal opioids like heroin. Consuming more than the recommended daily therapeutic dose of promethazine-codeine cough syrup may produce euphoria similar to that produced by other opioid medications; people who are addicted to codeine can consume many times the recommended and safe amount. Additionally, codeine and promethazine HCl act as central nervous system depressants, producing sedative or calming effects.
Houstonians haunt local pharmacies
Harris, a Fort Bend County resident, is the latest in what Hamby called a story of Houston-area criminals attempting to prey on Beaumont pharmacies.
“As often happens with these networks that come out of Houston, where our (fraudsters) usually come from, they come into town in one or more vehicles and split them in the parking lot,” Hamby revealed while explaining that King’s La pharmacy has assisted BPD in several prick operations. “All the ones we’ve done bites on before are very similar. They come from somewhere like Baytown, north of Houston, or east of Houston, somewhere out there.
“Everything is filmed, and they are really bold in their activity.”
When explaining why Houston-based criminals would target his Beaumont pharmacy, Hamby offered, “In my head, I think there’s less sophistication when you travel outside of their area. They are moving away from an area that might already be heavily trafficked, or be attacked by Houston organizations, or where they are known, or their face is known, or that activity is well known and there there are constraints in place by stores there.
“So they go somewhere else thinking, ‘I can get away with it there.’ I guess it’s the stereotype that rural America is less sophisticated than the city.
Wary of giving too much information to people who might benefit, Hamby explained that new regulations on prescribers have clamped down on the number of successful pharmacy fraudsters.
“Prescribers now have certain constraints on how they can pass prescriptions,” he explained, “and any time these are not met, a flag goes up immediately.”
Harris was arrested on November 29, 2021, according to the affidavit, and admitted to the alleged crime. At press time, Harris was not in the custody of the local jail, but, according to prison staff, there is currently an active warrant for Harris’s arrest.