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DEA Settles with Walgreens for $80 Million for Illegal Handling of Opiates

 

Walgreens, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, has agreed to pay $80 million in fines to settle a case  resulting from an extensive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation. The investigation discovered that Walgreens had failed to meet regulations for keeping records as well as reporting suspicious activity – ranging from inordinately large pharmaceutical orders to filling prescriptions that were prescribed by a flagged doctor. The DEA believes that this oversight contributed thousands of pills to the black market, particularly painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and Xanax. Although the penalty may seem harsh, it sends a public statement to other pharmacies  that they need to uphold their responsibilities to the public and to the law.

The DEA’s suspicions were aroused when it became apparent that Walgreens pharmacies were ordering larger and larger amounts of controlled substances, particularly oxycodone (the active ingredient in many potent painkillers like Oxycontin). For example, one pharmacy in Florida went from ordering 95,800 pills in 2009 to 2.2 million in 2011 (Leger). When taking into consideration the heightened laws surrounding prescription pill dispensation and the crackdown on doctors fraudulently prescribing opiates, this dramatic increase makes very little sense. As the DEA took a closer look at the Jupiter, Florida Walgreens distribution center and surrounding pharmacies, they found that pharmacists failed to identify customers who acted suspiciously and filled prescriptions written by doctors who had been red-flagged, and that the  Walgreens didn’t report suspiciously large orders being placed by their pharmacies. All of these actions are in direct conflict with their DEA license to distribute controlled substances.

There are many ways that pharmacists and their corporate headquarters can determine if somebody is misusing prescriptions or obtaining them from a careless doctor. For example, if someone  drops off multiple prescriptions for heavy painkillers but shows no signs of pain, that is one red-flag. If a person submits prescriptions from different doctors, or retrieves narcotic prescriptions more often than necessary, these are also signs that something illegal is going on. As a corporation, Walgreens has a responsibility to prevent their drugs from entering  the black market drug trade, and to notify the proper authorities if something doesn’t add up. However, they weren’t doing this – in fact, they were turning a blind eye to obvious signs. This could be due to the fact that up until this settlement was reached, Walgreens had a policy that compensated pharmacists for the amount of prescriptions they filled. This type of policy encourages greed and negligence, despite the serious consequences these actions invite.

The $80 million settlement that was reached marks the largest civil penalty on a corporation under the Controlled Substance Act to date. In addition to this, the Jupiter, Florida distribution center had its controlled substance license suspended until September 2014. Several Floridian pharmacies also had their individual licenses suspended until May 2014. The other conditions of the settlement include the creation of a new department to ensure compliance with rules and regulations, a new employee training program, and the termination  of the compensation program for pharmacists based on the filling of prescriptions (Anderson).

Yes, the penalty for these actions is severe in many ways, but it speaks volumes to other pharmaceutical powerhouses. Because they are in control of dispensing highly addictive substances, these corporations have a responsibility to both the public and the law to be vigilant and take proper preventative measures when something seems wrong. By making the Walgreens case a public example, the DEA can show that “National pharmaceutical chains are not exempt from following the law,” as special agent in charge Mark Trouville said…and not only are they not exempt from following the law, but they are not exempt from the consequences either (Meier).

 

Works Cited:

Anderson, Curt. “DEA Settles Walgreens Painkiller Case for $80M.” 11 June 2013. Time.com . Web. 12 June 2013.

Leger, Donna Leinwand. “Walgreens to pay $80 million for oxycodone violations.” 11 June 2013. USA Today. Web. 12 June 2013.

Meier, Barry. “Walgreen to Pay $80 Million Fine in D.E.A. Inquiry.” 11 June 2013. The New York Times. Web. 12 June 2013.

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A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Alcohol and Drugs, Latest News · Tags: dea, painkillers, pharmacy, Walgreens