The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a first-of-its-kind action to stop two pharmacies, their owner, and three pharmacists from dispensing controlled substances including highly addictive opioids that have been linked to the deaths of at least two people and have driven several others to hospitals for opioid overdose shortly after obtaining drugs from the pharmacies.
“The pharmacists have a legal obligation to dispense controlled substances properly, so as not to put patients’ health at risk,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will use every available tool to stop individuals and entities responsible for the improper distribution of controlled substances.”
The DOJ’s move is part of a coordinated effort by the DOJ’s Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force to deploy all available criminal, civil and regulatory tools to reverse the devastating effects of the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The civil complaint unsealed Friday in the Middle District of Tennessee alleges Celina, Tennessee pharmacies Oakley Pharmacy Inc., doing business as Dale Hollow Pharmacy, and Xpress Pharmacy of Clay County; the pharmacy owner Thomas Weir; and pharmacists John Polston, Michael Griffith, and Larry Larkin were dispensing and billing Medicare for prescriptions in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and the False Claims Act.
According to the complaint, the pharmacies and pharmacists filled several prescriptions for opioids without ensuring that the prescriptions were written for a legitimate medical purpose, and that they ignored several warning signs of diversion and abuse, such as prescriptions for unusually high dosages of the powerful opioid oxycodone, prescriptions for dangerous combinations of controlled substances, and patients traveling great distances to fill prescriptions. The pharmacies are also accused of falsely billing Medicare for these illegally dispensed drugs. The court issued a restraining order.
“The opioid epidemic has been devastating for Tennessee and neighboring states,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the HHS Office of Inspector General. “Physicians and pharmacists have a dual responsibility to ensure that these medications are only prescribed and dispensed when they are medically necessary.”