The Justice Department on Monday filed a lawsuit against Rite Aid, accusing it of illegally writing hundreds of thousands of prescriptions. Photo from Sean Tew/EPA file
March 14 (UPI) — The United States on Monday filed a lawsuit against Rite Aid and several of its subsidiaries over allegations that their pharmacists wrote hundreds of thousands of illegal prescriptions for controlled substances over the years, fueling the opioid epidemic.
Complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division accuses one of the nation’s largest retail pharmacies of not only filling prescriptions despite red flags being raised, but knowing it’s happening and taking steps to remove in-house alerts about suspicious doctors.
“The Department of Justice is using every tool at our disposal to confront the opioid epidemic that is killing Americans and devastating communities across the country,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. statement. “This includes holding corporations like Rite Aid accountable for knowingly executing illegal prescriptions for controlled substances.”
Federal and local governments have filed numerous lawsuits against companies over allegations of fueling the opioid epidemic, which has killed more than 564,000 people between 1999 and 2020. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pharmaceutical companies, including retail pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, reached multi-million and in such cases billion-dollar settlements with states filing thousands of lawsuits against them, and federal prosecutors filing their own. At the end of last year, the Ministry of Justice sued AmerisourceBergen, one of the largest drug makers, on similar charges in a case it filed on Monday against Rite Aid.
In a lawsuit filed on Monday, prosecutors accuse Rite Aid of prescribing from May 1, 2014 to June 10, 2019, despite obvious and often multiple red flags indicating misuse related to the prescriber, the customer, or a combination of the two.
The document states that the prescriptions in question were either medically unnecessary, had no medical indication, or were not normally issued.
While pharmacists “ignored those red flags,” the company knew such controlled substance prescriptions were being filled “regularly and everywhere,” federal prosecutors said.
“While Rite Aid’s pharmacists were required to use a screening process for certain highly diverting controlled substances and eliminate red flags before dispensing, Rite Aid knew the screening process was a fig leaf,” the complaint reads.
Additionally, Rite Aid’s government relations department is alleged to have repeatedly ordered employees to delete internal notes about suspicious prescribers recorded in its drug dispensing software.
“Only cash for a pill factory???”, “I write an overdose[s] for oxycodone” and “DO NOT FILL CONTROL” were among examples of supposedly deleted notes included in the court document.
“Instead of making this vital information available to all Rite Aid pharmacists, the Government Relations Analyst alerted the Rite Aid pharmacist, who added this note: “Always be very careful about what is in writing,” continued He.
Federal prosecutors say that despite knowing that controlled substance prescriptions are for illegal medical purposes, Rite Aid “very rarely acted to stop the flow of opioids prescribed by this medical practitioner.”
The federal government specifically charges the company, which has more than 2,200 pharmacies in 17 states, with violations of the Controlled Substances Act and the False Claims Act for filing false or fraudulent prescription claims for federal health care programs.
Prosecutors also filed a complaint as part of the exposure lawsuit filed against Rite Aide in 2019.
UPI asked Rite Aid to comment on the lawsuit.
“The opioid crisis has taken a heavy toll on communities across the United States. Today’s complaint is an important reminder that the Department of Justice will hold to account any individuals and entities, including pharmacies, that sparked this terrible crisis,” said First Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bryan. Boynton said so in a statement.