Feb. 06The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced Monday afternoon that two Central Florida CVS pharmacies have been blocked from selling controlled substances.
Agents raided two CVS locations on Saturday one on Orlando Drive in Sanford and the other on West First Street in Sanford and removed boxes of medication and other materials from the stores.
DEA held a 3 p.m. news conference at the Orlando office to announce, "Pharmaceutical Wholesale Distributor and Retailers Lose Right to Sell Controlled Substance Medications."
Agents at the press conference said they believe this is the first time the federal drug agency has taken this action against a national retail pharmacy.
DEA officials wouldn't comment on the raids over the weekend, but a CVS/pharmacy spokesman said it was related to an action taken earlier by the DEA against Cardinal Health, a pharmaceutical company that distributes drugs to more than 2,5000 pharmacies in the Southeast.
Cardinal Health paid a $34 million civil fine to DEA in September 2008 for failing to report suspicious orders. As part of the settlement, Cardinal Health agreed to maintain a compliance program designed to detect and prevent illegal drug use.
Last week, DEA tried to suspend Cardinal Health's license in order to stop the company from shipping drugs like the powerful, addictive painkiller oxycodone from a company distribution center in Lakeland.
According to court documents filed by Cardinal Health on Friday, federal authorities alleged that four of Cardinal Health's pharmacy customers have distributed the painkiller oxycodone for illegitimate purposes.
The CVS/pharmacy on Orlando Drive is Cardinal Health's top customer, according to DEA documents filed in the Cardinal case. From January 2008 through December 2011, Cardinal sold more than 5 million dosages of oxycodone to the pharmacy.
The CVS/pharmacy on West First Street is also one of the top customers.
The DEA document said that from 2008 to 2009, Cardinal's sales to its top four retail pharmacy customers increased about 800 percent. From 2009 to 2010, the sales to those four stores increased about 160 percent.
The DEA alleges that Cardinal Health should have known about the potential illegal use and sales of the drug by its customers.
"The [Immediate Suspension Order] alleges that continued registration of the Lakeland facility presents an imminent danger to the public health or safety because, according to the ISO, Cardinal Health's compliance program has been ineffective," the court document said.
Cardinal Health challenged DEA's order, and in its court filings said it is unnecessary to suspend the Lakeland facility because it no longer supplied controlled substances to the pharmacies the federal government identified.
Cardinal Health maintained it has a "vigorous and robust anti-diversion system," and that the company monitored and investigated orders placed by the CVS pharmacies as well as two independent pharmacies in Florida. The company "formed reasonable conclusion that continued sales to them were appropriate."
"Any diversion of oxycodone by these pharmacies cannot be attributed to a lack of diligence by Cardinal Health," the company argued.
When Cardinal Health identified potentially unusual oxycodone-ordering patterns in the fall of 2010 at the Sanford CVS stores, it asked the pharmacy company to investigate the orders.
"Cardinal Health had good reason to believe that the CVS anti-diversion program was reliable. Large chains like CVS have the resources to investigate potential diversion, and chain pharmacists do not share directly in any profits from diversion," Cardinal Health's attorneys argued.
On Friday, a judge blocked DEA's order, and granted Cardinal Health a temporary restraining order against the federal agency.
DEA officials said Agent Mark Trouville, who is in charge of the agency's Miami field division, will make a statement at Monday's news conference in Orlando regarding recent administrative actions against Cardinal Health and CVS.
CVS/pharmacy spokesman Michael DeAngelis didn't make any new statements about the issue Monday. He referred to a statement he released Saturday, which said the company is "disappointed that the DEA has taken administrative action to prohibit two CVS/pharmacy stores in Florida from dispensing controlled substances."
In November, CVS/pharmacy told a small number of Florida doctors that company pharmacists would no longer fill their prescriptions for painkillers and other powerful, addictive drugs.
It also compiled a spreadsheet, titled "CVS-DEA: Florida High Prescribers," that included the names and addresses of the physicians who received the company letter.
Industry experts say this is the first time a major pharmacy chain is taking such an action.
CVS officials refused to answer any specific questions about why or how it compiled the list of physicians, which includes at least 22 doctors from Central Florida.
"We have informed a small number of Florida physicians that CVS/pharmacy will no longer fill the prescriptions they write for Schedule II narcotics," DeAngelis said in a statement emailed to the Orlando Sentinel last month.
"While we regret any inconvenience this may cause for our customers, we treat the dispensing of controlled substances with the utmost care and seriousness. CVS/pharmacy is unwavering in its compliance and measures to prevent drug abuse and keep controlled substances out of the wrong hands."
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