Part Two: Prescription Privacy - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

13 Investigates

Part Two: Prescription Privacy

Ginny McClain Ginny McClain
Danielle Miller with son Tyler Danielle Miller with son Tyler
The CVS at 56th and Georgetown The CVS at 56th and Georgetown
Reporter Bob Segall, left, talks to CVS manager Richard Townsend Reporter Bob Segall, left, talks to CVS manager Richard Townsend
Dustin Waalkins, Walgreens manager Dustin Waalkins, Walgreens manager

Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Ginny McClain and Tyler Miller have never met, but the two strangers have something in common - their lives strangely linked by a bag of trash.

13 Investigates found sensitive personal information about McClain and Miller inside a dumpster at a pharmacy on Indianapolis' northwest side. And they aren't the only customers whose information we found in the trash. Inside the same garbage bag from that same dumpster was personal information about 56 other customers, making the CVS pharmacy at 56th Street and Georgetown Road one of the worst we found when it comes to protecting patient privacy.

"I had no idea," said Danielle Miller, mother of 3-year-old Tyler. "This gives our phone number, his date of birth, our address.... I'm just amazed."

"I figured this was confidential and would be destroyed," added McClain.

Richard Townsend, manager of the pharmacy, said confidential information like that is supposed to be put in blue bags that are then shipped off and burned.

"That is not our policy," he said. "That is not what we typically do."

So why did we find so much personal information in clear bags in a wide open dumpster that's accessible to anyone?

"I cannot explain that," Townsend said. "There is no reason for that to occur."

But it does occur at many drugstores around Indianapolis. 13 Investigates took trash from 30 randomly chosen pharmacies and at more than half of the stores, we found customers' private information in the garbage.

Inside a dumpster at the Walgreens at 3205 E. Washington Street in Indianapolis we found lots of pill bottles with patient information. Someone tried to black out some information on the labels, but it was still easy to read the names. According to the pharmacy manager, Dustin Waalkins, the bottles and prescription labels just slipped through the cracks - an isolated incident.

"I have never seen open bottles like this in my dumpster before," Waalkins said. "My store is very good about sending them back to our warehouse where they're destroyed. I've never seen them in my dumpster before."

So it just happened that we were there on the one day those sensitive items got into the dumpster?

"Apparently," he said, "because I promise you they're never out here."

But we found a lot of those "isolated incidents" all over the city in wide-open dumpsters containing patients' personal information. And it was the same story at pharmacies in Carmel and Fishers, near Greenwood and in Beech Grove.

Among the stores we checked were three Low Cost Rx locations. We found personal information in the trash at the Madison Avenue store. The pharmacist, Ari Stevens, did not seem surprised.

"We shred what we can, but obviously not everything makes it into the shredder," Stevens said.

At the CVS in Beech Grove, the dumpster right behind the pharmacy had a bag loaded with customer information. We went back the next day and told an assistant manager that patient records were in the trash. She flatly denied it.

"No they're not," she said. "Our patient records are in blue bags."

When she walked away, we checked the dumpster again. We found more patient information, and then the assistant manager came back.

"Give me the trash," she said. "First of all, it is illegal to dumpster dive and I will call the cops on you. I don't care if you're from the news or not."

Actually, it is not illegal in Indiana - in fact, that's why some pharmacies lock their dumpsters - to make sure no one gets into them.

But most of the dumpsters we found were not locked. Spokespersons for CVS and Walgreens, the nation's largest pharmacy chains, say locking the dumpsters should not be necessary because patient information shouldn't be in there in the first place.

Don't tell that to Robert Traylor. We found a pill bottle with his personal information in a dumpster behind a Walgreens on east 38th Street. In that same dumpster we also found personal information for eight other patients.

"They should have destroyed it," Traylor said.

We asked the manager of that store, Chris McCann, why customer information was ending up in the trash.

"I have no idea," he said. "It's not supposed to. It's supposed to be shredded."

He said it's not Walgreens policy that's the problem, but rather employees who don't follow the policy.

"Someone's messing it up, and that's all I can say," McCann said.

Following our investigation, local pharmacies say they are now paying more attention to what goes in the garbage. Their customers say it's time the pharmacies start talking trash to make sure policies are followed and that personal information doesn't end up in the wrong hands.

"This is vital information," said Danielle Miller. "I just can't believe it was found in the trash."

To find out how your neighborhood pharmacy did in our test, click here for an interactive map. It contains information about all 65 pharmacies we visited, what we found at each one, and how well those stores protect their trash. You can also click here for a list of the stores that had very good security for their dumpsters.

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