High Volume of Painkiller Sales in Florida

Medical Sign made out of pills

Two CVS pharmacies in Florida were the subject of a federal hearing this week. Drug Enforcement Administration supervisor Gayle Lane told the courts that two CVS pharmacies in Sanford ranked 23rd and 37th among thousands of U.S. pharmacies for distribution of the strong painkiller oxycodone. Oxycodone is the generic name for the pain-relieving drug in OxyContin.

As it battles what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling a prescription drug abuse epidemic, the DEA has increased its focus on drug wholesalers and pharmacies. And for good reason. Currently, deaths from narcotic painkillers are topping those of heroin and cocaine combined.

A DEA investigator named Wehrle stated, “A pharmacist at one store told me that sometimes the store would run out of oxycodone as soon as 30 minutes after opening at 8 a.m. and most days between 10 a.m. and noon. This pharmacist told me he could fill oxycodone prescriptions all day long if he had the manpower and the inventory.”

The DEA is alleging that these two stores about 30 miles south of Orlando were inappropriately filling prescriptions for oxycodone. There were also other suspicious sales for controlled substances.

CVS has claimed that these high volumes of painkiller sales were because these were busy pharmacies due to their locations close to Interstate 4. One of the stores is also open 24 hours a day. CVS attorney Catherine O’Neil told the judge the two stores had effective controls in place, such as verifying prescriptions. Still, the company replaced the chief pharmacists at the stores. The attorney stated, “Employees have no incentives to sell painkillers. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose if they failed to meet their obligations.”

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DEA group supervisor Ruth Carter said, “Cardinal Health supplies oxycodone and their records show that 7.5 million pills were shipped to the two CVS stores over 36 months. Records at the two stores show that they consistently were filling ‘prescription cocktails’ – a mix of oxycodone and anti-anxiety drugs and muscle relaxers, with the same diagnosis of lower back or lumbar pain.”

The DEA is also looking into six Walgreen Pharmacies and its distribution center in Florida because they noticed a jump in purchases of oxycodone.