Asserting that the pharmacy chain Rite Aid (RAD) illegally filled hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for banned narcotics, including opioids, the U.S. government filed a lawsuit against Rite Aid Corp. on Monday.
The United States has filed a complaint in intervention in a false claims act (FCA) lawsuit brought by a whistleblower against Rite Aid Corporation and various subsidiaries (collectively, Rite Aid), alleging that Rite Aid knowingly filled illegal prescriptions for controlled substances, the Justice Department announced today. The government’s case asserts allegations under the FCA as well as violations of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). With more than 2,200 locations across 17 states, Rite Aid is one of the biggest pharmacy chains in the nation.
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Rite Aid pharmacists were accused of ignoring obvious signs of misuse, including in prescriptions for “trinities,” a combination of opioids, benzodiazepine, and muscle relaxants preferred by drug abusers for their increased euphoric effect.
“The Justice Department is using every tool at our disposal to confront the opioid epidemic that is killing Americans and shattering communities across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “That includes holding corporations, like Rite Aid, accountable for knowingly filling unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances.”
“We allege that Rite Aid filled hundreds of thousands of prescriptions that did not meet legal requirements,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “According to our complaint, Rite Aid’s pharmacists repeatedly filled prescriptions for controlled substances with obvious red flags, and Rite Aid intentionally deleted internal notes about suspicious prescribers. These practices opened the floodgates for millions of opioid pills and other controlled substances to flow illegally out of Rite Aid’s stores.”
The government’s complaint alleges that, from May 2014 through June 2019, Rite Aid knowingly filled at least hundreds of thousands of unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances that lacked a legitimate medical purpose, were not for a medically accepted indication, or were not issued in the usual course of professional practice.
These unlawful prescriptions included, for example, prescriptions for the dangerous and highly abused combination of drugs known as “the trinity,” prescriptions for excessive quantities of opioids, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, and prescriptions issued by prescribers whom Rite Aid pharmacists had repeatedly identified internally as writing illegitimate prescriptions.
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The government alleges that Rite Aid pharmacists filled these prescriptions despite clear “red flags” that were highly indicative that the prescriptions were unlawful. The government further alleges that Rite Aid not only ignored substantial evidence from multiple sources that its stores were dispensing unlawful prescriptions, including from certain pharmacists, its distributor, and its own internal data, but compounded its failure to act by intentionally deleting internal notes about suspicious prescribers written by Rite Aid pharmacists and directing district managers to tell pharmacists “to be mindful of everything that is put in writing.”
By knowingly filling unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances, the government alleges that Rite Aid violated the CSA and, where Rite Aid sought reimbursement from federal healthcare programs, also violated the FCA.
Portions of this news release came from The United States Department of Justice.
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