The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has suspended a major pharmaceutical distributor from shipping or selling certain painkillers and other medications from a Florida facility as part of a settlement with the company. Two Florida pharmacies have also had their controlled substance licenses suspended. The DEA’s investigation centered on large shipments of painkillers from the distributor to the pharmacies. The painkillers were then sold to the public.
The DEA pursued these companies as part of a broader crackdown on prescription drug abuse, particularly the abuse of painkillers. The issue is of particular concern because of the risk of medication errors in pharmacies that might illicitly distribute prescription drugs.
Two CVS pharmacies were the focus of the DEA’s investigation. The two stores, both located in Sanford, Florida, reportedly ranked 23rd and 37th in the nation for highest number of oxycodone pills sold.
Oxycodone, also known as ‘Oxy,’ is an opiate painkiller with a high potential for addiction and abuse, and therefore it is strictly regulated by the DEA. A pharmacist employed at one of the stores allegedly told DEA investigators last year that they would sometimes run out of oxycodone less than an hour after the store opened, and that they nearly always ran out before noon. The DEA suspected both stores of inappropriately dispensing oxycodone and other controlled substances, alleging that the pharmacies’ sales of the drugs were unusually high.
At an administrative hearing in late April, the pharmacy argued that it had nothing to gain from overselling painkillers, although the company noted that it had replaced the pharmacists at both stores. The DEA presented evidence that Florida pharmacies dispense more oxycodone than the rest of the country combined. It also produced evidence that the two pharmacies filled an unusually large number of prescriptions for a particular “cocktail” of oxycodone, anti-anxiety medications, and muscle relaxants prescribed for lower back pain.
While the investigation into the two CVS pharmacies was ongoing, the DEA also pursued Cardinal Health, the second-largest drug distributor in the country. The DEA accused Cardinal of shipping excessive amounts of painkillers and other drugs to four Florida pharmacies, including the two CVS stores in Sanford. It alleged that the company had delivered 7.5 million oxycodone pills to those two stores in the preceding three years, but had never reported any suspicious orders nor reviewed the high volume of orders from the stores. It suspended Cardinal’s license at its Lakeland, Florida location to distribute controlled substances, with a review hearing scheduled in May.
Cardinal agreed to a two-year suspension of its license for its Lakeland location. This reportedly only settles the licensure component of the DEA’s investigation. The DEA may still puruse Cardinal for civil penalties. The company paid a $34 million fine in 2008 over allegations of shipping excessive amounts of the painkiller hydrocodone to online pharmacies. The license revocation matters against the two CVS pharmacies are still awaiting a hearing.
The Maryland pharmacy error attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist you if you have been injured by drugs prescribed or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online, or call (800) 654-1949 to see if you may recover damages.
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Photo credit: ‘CVS’ by Calmon1 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.