April 13, 2012

DEA Prescription Drug Abuse Crackdown Continues

by Ami E. Simunovich, Pharm.D., R.Ph.

DEA Badge.jpg Prescription drug abuse continues to be a leading form of drug abuse in the United States. In its ongoing efforts to curb prescription drug abuse, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") served administrative inspection warrants to six Florida Walgreens pharmacies and one of its distribution centers in Jupiter, Florida. According to the DEA, these inspection warrants were issued to determine if the Walgreens facilities are violating federal laws and regulations and dispensing controlled substances outside the scope of their DEA registrations.

Pharmacies and wholesalers that dispense or distribute controlled substances must register with the DEA. The DEA can subject any of its registrants to an inspection to ensure compliance with provisions of the U.S. Control Substance Act related to the distribution of controlled substances. Under the U.S Controlled Substance Act, a warrant can be issued if there is probable cause. "The term 'probable cause' means a valid public interest in the effective enforcement of this subchapter or regulations thereunder sufficient to justify administrative inspections of the area, premises, building, or conveyance, or contents thereof, in the circumstances specified in the application for the warrant."

According to DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark R. Trouville, "[T]his latest regulatory action continues DEA's effort to rid Florida of the prescription drug abuse epidemic. DEA is concerned about the recent significant rise in the number of oxycodone tablets purchased by Walgreens in Florida."

Just three months ago, the DEA raided two CVS pharmacies in Samford, Florida and a Cardinal Health distribution center in Lakeland, Florida and suspended their ability to sell controlled substances. As Richard Kurz noted in his most recent blog on this issue here, "The DEA's actions and arguments demonstrate that if a DEA administrator considers a distributor's anti-diversion efforts to be unsatisfactory, then the DEA may immediately revoke that distributor's controlled substance registration without a prior hearing, even after remedial efforts have been taken. Unless the court [District of Columbia Court of Appeals] determines otherwise, Cardinal's current experience provides the regulated distribution industry with some insight into the apparently unwritten anti-diversion rules that must be followed." In its press release on the issue, the DEA reminded the public that "[M]ore than seven million Americans abuse prescription drugs, according to the 2010 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And every day, on average, 2,500 teens use them to get high for the first time, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America." Undoubtedly, more DEA actions are likely to follow in its efforts to help curb prescription drug abuse by getting pharmacies more involved in their awareness of their responsibilities in the process.