Laxative Abuser Never Questioned over Bulk Purchases
The former retail manager of an Adelaide pharmacy where a skeletal woman spent $500 a week buying laxative tablets has denied allegations she turned a blind eye to the health risks of the bulk orders to meet sales targets.
Claudia La Bella, 28, weighed just 35 kilograms when she died on June 29, 2014 from complications associated with laxative abuse.
A coronial inquest investigating her death has heard the mother-of-one and her husband would spend around $500 each week at their local pharmacy buying multiple boxes of Dulcolax laxatives.
For two years, Mrs La Bella pretended to have terminal ovarian cancer to cover the symptoms of taking up to 800 Dulcolax tablets a day.
Her husband John La Bella told the inquest he placed bulk orders for the laxatives at the Chemist King in Hectorville once a week because his wife told him they were part of her cancer treatment.
On Thursday, Jessica Cutting, who was the retail manager at the pharmacy at the time, was questioned over how she could allow such large bulk purchases to be made on a regular basis.
Ms Cutting told the court she and other staff would put aside 25 to 30 boxes of Dulcolax for Mr and Mrs La Bella each week.
She said she sought advice from pharmacist Carolyn Tan who in turn approved the bulk orders.
“She was the main pharmacist, she was the one I would go to, I trusted Carolyn,” Ms Cutting said.
“I can’t remember how many times I asked her about it, but the times I did she didn’t question it.”
Ms Cutting told the court when she first saw Mrs La Bella as a customer in the store she thought she had an eating disorder, but was later told by colleagues that she had cancer.
‘Everyone Knew Her as the Lady with Cancer’
During her evidence she initially denied knowing that laxative abuse can be connected to eating disorders, but when questioned by State Coroner Mark Johns she changed her answer.
Q: You would have been aware of that connection for many years.
Q: For you to suggest that you had no idea about a connection between a potential eating disorder and laxative abuse when you were working in Chemist King in 2014 is just not true is it?
Q: Why did you tell an untruth?
A: I didn’t put it together… her with anorexia.
Ms Cutting said she believed the laxatives were crushed and put into Mrs La Bella’s drip as part of her chemotherapy and thought that it was a valid reason to require so many boxes of Dulcolax.
“I didn’t have any reason not to believe it … everyone knew her as the lady with cancer,” she said.
“I didn’t know anything about cancer, I just took her word for it.”
In her statement tendered to the court, Ms Cutting stated: “I did not know that Dulcolax was not a treatment for cancer. At all stages I thought Dulcolax was being purchased to treat and manage Mrs La Bella’s cancer”.
During questioning by counsel assisting the coroner Kathryn Waite, Ms Cutting denied she had budgets and sale targets to meet despite it being part of her job description.
No Ethical Dilemma Bulk Ordering Laxatives
But she later agreed that making regular profits from the bulk orders meant she was doing her job “effectively”.
Q: These regular sales of hundreds of dollars, that’s going to keep the bosses happy isn’t?
A Yes, if he is looking at sales.
Q: So you didn’t feel any ethical dilemma in putting in these bulk orders for laxatives?
Ms Cutting, who had worked in the pharmacy since 2011, said she was not aware the recommended daily dose of Dulcolax was two to three tablets per day, for no more than a week.
“I didn’t know much about the product so I hadn’t looked [at the box],” she said.
The inquest continues.