By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
CVS Pharmacy has agreed to pay a $535,000 fine to resolve allegations that several of its Rhode Island stores filled dozens of forged prescriptions for Percocet, a potent opioid painkiller. It’s the latest in a series of fines the nation’s largest pharmacy chain has paid for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
According to DEA investigators, CVS pharmacists filled 39 forged prescriptions for Percocet between 2015 and 2017 even though they “knew or had reason to know that the prescription in question was invalid or unauthorized.”
In a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, CVS agreed to pay the fine while making no admission of any liability or wrongdoing. The company said it wanted to avoid the expense and uncertainty of going to trial. In return, the DOJ agreed to drop all civil or criminal prosecution of the case.
“DEA registrants like CVS have a corresponding responsibility to dispense controlled substances in accordance with the Controlled Substance Act,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian Boyle.
“Pharmacies put patients at risk when they dispense Schedule II narcotics, which have the highest potential for abuse, without a valid and legal prescription. Today’s settlement demonstrates DEA’s commitment to work with our law enforcement and regulatory partners to ensure that these rules and regulations are followed.”
It’s not the first time CVS has been accused of lax or fraudulent behavior involving opioid medication.
In 2017, CVS agreed to pay a $5 million fine to settle allegations that several of its pharmacies in California failed to detect thefts of the opioid painkiller hydrocodone.
In 2016, CVS agreed to pay a $3.5 million fine to resolve allegations that 50 of its pharmacies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire filled forged prescriptions for opioids. One forger signed a dentist’s name on 131 prescriptions for hydrocodone and had them filled at eight different CVS stores.
And in 2015, CVS paid a $22 million fine after two of its pharmacies in Florida were found to be routinely filling bogus prescriptions for painkillers, including some for customers as far away as Kentucky.
All of these cases were settled out of court.
In 2018, CVS angered pain patients when it began to limit the initial dose of opioids to 7 days’ supply for customers enrolled in CVS Caremark health plans. For both acute and chronic pain patients, CVS said daily doses of opioids should not exceed 90 MME (morphine milligram equivalent) and patients would be required to use immediate release formulations. CVS said it was making the CDC opioid guideline the “default approach” to prescribing opioids.
Last week, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield acknowledged for the first time the agency’s voluntary guideline was causing “unintended harms” and that patients should only be tapered to lower doses “if a patient would like to taper.”
“The Guideline does not endorse mandated or abrupt dose reduction or discontinuation, as these actions can result in patient harm,” Redfield said. “The Guideline includes recommendations for clinicians to work with patients to taper or reduce dosage only when patient harm outweighs patient benefit of opioid therapy.”
Nothing in the guideline empowers pharmacists to set dose limitations. CVS operates 9,700 pharmacies and 1,100 walk-in medical clinics nationwide