The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Friday banned a Walgreens distribution center in Jupiter from dispensing controlled substances to its pharmacies in Florida and the East Coast, saying the business constituted an "imminent danger" to the public.
The DEA said that since 2009, the Jupiter distribution center has been the single-largest distributor of oxycodone products in Florida.
An immediate suspension order alleges the distribution center did not have effective controls against the illegal use of controlled substances, DEA reports.
The suspension order alleges the facility failed to conduct due diligence "to ensure that the controlled substances were not diverted into other than legitimate channels."
"The diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances is a great concern for the DEA," Mark R. Trouville, the Special Agent in Charge of the Miami division said in a statement.
"All DEA Registrants have an obligation to ensure that medications are getting into the hands of legitimate patients, and when they choose to look the other way patients suffer and drug dealers prosper," he stated. "The Miami Field Division will continue to investigate all those who contribute to this intolerable situation and deal with them accordingly."
In a statement issued Friday, Walgreens spokesman James W. Graham said, "We take our obligations under the Controlled Substances Act very seriously and are committed to ensuring the health of our customers and the communities in which we operate."
The action only applies to the Jupiter distribution center and only suspends the distribution of controlled substances.
"Our distribution center in Jupiter, Fla., will continue to be in operation to serve the needs of our pharmacies for non-controlled prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and general merchandise," Graham stated.
It was not immediately clear what impact, if any, the suspension order will have on Walgreens' customers who need controlled substances that would normally be dispensed from the Jupiter center.
The Jupiter facility is one of 12 Walgreens distribution centers, the DEA reports. The DEA served an administrative inspection warrant at the facility in April, as well as its top six retail pharmacies in Florida.
One of those was at the Walgreens on Lockwood Boulevard in Oviedo. DEA said the Oviedo pharmacy ordered about 80,900 oxycodone units from the Jupiter distribution center in 2009. By 2011, that spiked to nearly 1.7 million units.
"These administrative actions were to determine if these Walgreens' maintained a system in place that detects and reports suspicious orders to the DEA," the agency said.
The DEA said that about the same time the abuse of prescription drugs became an epidemic in Florida, Walgreens' Florida retail pharmacies, supplied by the Jupiter facility, "commanded an increasingly large percentage of the oxycodone business."
In 2010, three Walgreens pharmacies were in the top 100 purchasers of oxycodone in Florida, DEA reports. Last year, 38 Walgreens pharmacies made the top 100, and six of those were in the top 10.
Graham said Walgreens has taken steps since mid-2011 to enhance monitoring and reporting criteria.
"These actions have resulted in a 35 percent drop in the number of tablets dispensed by our pharmacies in Florida for the most commonly abused pain management drug between June 2011 and March 2012," he said.
In an effort to curb Florida's prescription drug epidemic, the DEA started targeting national retail-pharmacy chains and at least one wholesale-drug distributor earlier this year.
In February, the DEA issued an immediate suspension order against Cardinal Health, one of the nation's largest wholesale-drug distributors, targeting its Lakeland facility.
The DEA alleged the center failed to maintain proper controls for highly abused drugs, including oxycodone.
In May, Cardinal Health agreed it would stop shipping controlled substances from the Lakeland facility for two years as part of an agreement with federal authorities.
The action against Cardinal Health came at the same time DEA issued immediate suspension orders against two CVS pharmacies in Sanford, including one that was Cardinal's top customer.
After a months-long legal battle, CVS/pharmacy was notified Tuesday that an order was issued revoking its DEA registrations of the two Sanford stores, banning the pharmacies from selling controlled substances.
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