Side Effects

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Gusich had his own complaints -- often with the nurses. Some were taking more than a week to get inmates' prescriptions to the pharmacy, which meant patients weren't receiving the drugs that doctors had prescribed. He also grumbled about how quickly syringes were vanishing from the nurses' stations. He claimed that the DOC had spent up to $100,000 on Ultram, an expensive painkiller that doctors liberally prescribed for inmates who hurt themselves during body-building sessions in prison weight rooms. Instead, he says, they should have ordered the prisoners simply to lay off the weights.

While working at the DOC's flagship pharmacy in Cañon City, Gusich says he was shocked to find unlicensed pharmacy technicians working alone on Saturdays without a pharmacist present. Doctors were handing over drug samples to be casually mixed with the pharmacy's general stock. Patients were receiving expired psychotropics -- used to treat ailments like depression and schizophrenia -- such as Serzone and Risperdal. "So they were giving them outdated mind drugs," Gusich says.

During her testimony in his case, Shoemaker said she wished Gusich had shown more concern for the nurses' heavy workload. Sometimes he meddled outside his jurisdiction. "The accountability of the syringes by the nurses," she explained, "is their responsibility."

The DRDC pharmacy frequently sends out "care packages" filled with over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, aspirin and Mylanta for prisoner use at outlying DOC facilities. But the high demand for the packages made Gusich wonder whether their contents were being taken home by staffers. "We didn't monitor how much went out," says nurse Anderson, "and the officers could use them at their leisure."

Staff members at the DRDC liberally swipe from the pharmacy stock, too. Medical workers and guards alike regularly help themselves to Motrin, Chap Stick, hand lotion, contact lens solution, decongestants, Tylenol and the like. Director Shoemaker even had Gusich order special eyedrops for her to use on the job, according to court testimony. "We were considered essential personnel, and these meds could help you stay on the job and finish your shift," Anderson explained at the hearing. Casual use of state resources is taken for granted; for example, Tony Schenk, the DOC's head pharmacist based in Cañon City, sent out copies of his daughter's job resumé and fliers for a theater production on his office fax machine.

Bob Gusich took from pharmacy stock, too: a $1.99 can of Sweet Breath spray that he used on the job. It became the DOC's grounds for firing him.

At 6'4", with a long, ruddy face and a full head of silver hair, the 59-year-old Gusich was born on the South Side of Chicago -- and has a burly accent that makes it obvious. A pharmacist for 35 years who owned his own drugstores in the Denver area from 1978 to 1988, Gusich liked to consider himself the "captain of a ship" in his pharmacy at the DRDC.

Hired first as a contract employee, Gusich took a full-time job with the DOC in March 1995. The following summer, the clinic hired a new pharmacy technician, Mynette Moulton, the daughter of a retired pharmacist who now does contract work for the DOC. Moulton's first application for the job was rejected because of her history of alcohol abuse and marijuana use. But after a letter admitting her past mistakes and requesting a fresh start, Moulton got the job.

Pharmacy "techs" are unlicensed in Colorado; pharmacists bear the ultimate responsibility for their work. Gusich protested Moulton's hiring because he felt she might "be put in harm's way" working around drugs all day, he says. When Moulton later claimed Gusich had created a hostile workplace (Gusich and his lawyers would not be allowed to see her written complaint until months later), the pharmacist was put on paid leave.

Three weeks later, Gusich was transferred to the CTCF pharmacy in Cañon City. He spent the next three months commuting home to southwest Denver on weekends and spending long weeknights in a rented motel room. The father of four grown daughters, Gusich estimates that his temporary transfer cost the state close to $50,000 in travel expenses and wages for a fill-in at the DRDC pharmacy.

But it was about to cost him more: his job.

After an investigation by the Inspector General's Office, an independent DOC division charged with ferreting out abuses by DOC staff, Gusich was charged with harassment and misappropriation of goods worth $67.45 -- including the Sweet Breath, a package of two Dr. Scholl's gel shoe insoles and three pairs of in-shoe "warmies." Gusich admits to using the breath spray but says he never even unwrapped the shoe liners; besides, they were designed for a man's 7-12 shoe size, and he wears a 13 or 14. Even at retail prices, the items wouldn't add up to $67.45, a figure he claims Shoemaker plucked from the air.

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Gayle Worland