DEA Aims to Stem Painkiller Black Market

DEA agents are targeting the top of the supply chain as part of a comprehensive strategy to stop the flow of prescription drugs to street dealers.

CVS, in a statement issued Feb. 17 in response to questions from USA TODAY, said the company is committed to working with the DEA and had taken "significant actions to ensure appropriate dispensing of painkillers in Florida, which have already resulted in dramatically reduced distribution of oxycodone."

For instance, spokesman Mike DeAngelis said, the number of oxycodone pills dispensed by the two Florida pharmacies dropped 80% in three months after CVS stopped filling some narcotics prescriptions for the 22 doctors writing questionable prescriptions. The company developed specific guidelines to help pharmacists determine whether prescriptions are legitimate, he said.

Brooks Pharmacy. The Bonita Springs pharmacy, also called Caremed, was Cardinal's fourth-largest customer in Florida. Cardinal's sales of oxycodone to Brooks more than tripled from 231,740 doses in 2009 to 724,500 doses in 2010, the DEA said. Owner Roscoe Heim asked for another increase in March 2010, claiming the chain drug stores in the area had stopped carrying controlled substances because they didn't want to deal with DEA paperwork, according to a letter he wrote to Cardinal that was filed with the court. "Many physicians are requiring patients to sign contracts using one pharmacy only for controlled substances, and they are referring their patients to us because we specialize in pain management," Heim wrote to Steve Morse at Cardinal Health.

Moellering concluded on his third visit to the store Sept. 21, 2011, that the pharmacy was probably diverting drugs, according to his inspection report, which is included in court papers. Cardinal halted its sales that day. Brooks surrendered its DEA license voluntarily a month later.

Gulf Coast Medical. The pharmacy, located inside a medical office building in a complex next to a 480-bed hospital, was Cardinal's second-largest customer in Florida. It had a small, but well-stocked, over-the-counter medicine section and appeared to serve customers from the surrounding middle-class area, Moellering noted.

In 2011, as Moellering's concerns mounted, Cardinal sold more than 2 million oxycodone pills to Gulf Coast, an 868% increase since 2009. Police were closing in. In each of Cardinal's reports on Gulf Coast, Moellering listed the top prescribers whose patients used the pharmacy.

By the time Cardinal cut Gulf Coast off in October, police had arrested at least three doctors included in Moellering's reports and charged them with a variety of charges, including trafficking in oxycodone, racketeering and overprescribing narcotics.

On Jan. 19, a federal grand jury indicted Green, the pharmacy owner, for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone. Green has pleaded not guilty in federal court. His lawyer did not return a call for comment.



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