Walgreens has been handed the largest fine in the history of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act
Fine is the largest under the Controlled Substances Act
Chain committed "an unprecedented number" of violations
Addictive painkiller oxycodone among the drugs
Walgreens, the nation's largest drugstore chain, will pay $80 million in fines to end a DEA probe into allegations it allowed millions of controlled substances, including the highly addictive painkiller oxycodone, to reach the black market.
The settlement is the largest civil penalty paid under the Controlled Substances Act in Drug Enforcement Administration history, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said Tuesday.
Walgreens committed "an unprecedented number" of record-keeping and dispensing violations, Ferrer said.
In September, the DEA accused Walgreens of endangering public safety and barred the company from shipping oxycodone and other controlled drugs from its Jupiter, Fla., distribution center. The distribution center was the largest supplier of oxycodone to retail pharmacies in Florida, the DEA said.
"The distribution centers are the first line of defense," Ferrer said.
As part of the settlement, the DEA suspended the controlled substance licenses for Walgreens' Jupiter distribution center until September 2014 and six of its Florida pharmacies until May 2014. The company has more than 800 pharmacies in Florida.
The settlement also closes similar investigation in Colorado, Michigan and New York, Ferrer said.
Ferrer called Walgreens' failure to report suspicious orders a "systemic practice that resulted in tens of thousands of violations."
Six of Walgreens' Florida pharmacies ordered more than a million pills a year, the DEA said. In 2011, the average pharmacy in the U.S. ordered 73,000 oxycodone tablets a year. Pharmacists dispensed prescriptions from doctors even when Walgreens computer system flagged the doctors as problematic, Ferrer said.
One pharmacy in Fort Myers went from ordering 95,800 pills in 2009 to 2.2 million pills in 2011, the DEA said. Another pharmacy in Hudson, an area of about 34,000 people near Clearwater, purchased 2.2 million pills in 2011, the DEA said.
"Walgreens pharmacists blatantly ignored red flags," Miami field district Special Agent in Charge Mark Trouville said. "National pharmaceutical chains are not exempt from following the law."
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