CVS is under investigation from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the California Board of Pharmacy for the alleged loss of 37,000 prescription pain pills, which include hydrocodone. The missing pills are from four different stores in California. As the investigation continues, CVS is looking at facing a possible $29 million fine over the alleged loss of the medication.
The stores that are currently under investigation are in Modesto, Dixon, Fairfield, and Turlock. Because the investigation is still open, all that DEA Agent Casey Rettig could comment on was that the search warrants for these stores were served in May 2013. Pharmacies are required to perform routine inventory inspections, and upon finding any medication missing, they are required to report it to the law within 14 days. In October 2012 the Sacramento DEA office became aware of a large number of reports being filed from certain CVS locations because of missing hydrocodone tablets.
In October 2012 the DEA and the California Board of Pharmacy realized after looking at reports from a CVS store in Rocklin, CA that this particular store reported 20,455 missing tablets. After further investigation it was found that this location had over 580 record-keeping violations. This incident led DEA officials to further their investigation and in 2013 they began investigating other CVS locations that also reported high numbers of loss. The forms from stores in Dixon and Modesto reported that each store was missing roughly 4,700 pills. The Fairfield report showed losses around 11,000, while the Dixon store report claimed they were missing more than 16,000 pills.
Spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento said that CVS is possibly facing up to 2,973 violations of the Controlled Substances Act for alleged losses. Horwood’s office sent a letter to CVS last month asking for more information regarding the alleged violations; CVS has not responded yet. The maximum fine that CVS could face over the alleged pain medication loss is $29 million.
In previous cases, these prescription pain medications are often stolen and sold on the black market. While there is some theft from pharmacists who take the pills for their own use, the theft typically comes from lower-end pharmacy technicians who steal these pills in order to sell them. That is what happened at the Rocklin store, where CVS employees reported to officials that they had seen another employee put pain pills in her pocket. The technician was later charged when she admitted to the DEA stealing 20,000 pills. The missing pain pills in this case include hydrocodone, which includes names such as Vicoden and Narco. Hydrocodone is considered to be morphine-like, and can be costly to buy on the street. These pills may be sold for up to $10 a pill, and thousands of the missing pills may already be sold.
Theft of prescription painkillers is a big problem in the pharmaceutical field. Just last year, Walgreens agreed to pay $80 million in fines, which was the largest settlement in DEA history. The settlement came after a DEA investigation into why particular Florida stores and distribution centers were placing unusually large orders for pain killers.
Michael D’Angelis stated that CVS is committed to combating prescription drug abuse, and that they are working with the DEA as well as other agencies and medical professionals in order to do so. D’Angelis also said that CVS is complying with the DEA investigation. In addition, CVS is working on internal controls that will better prevent drug theft, such as implementing new storage procedures for hydrocodone. As for now, CVS is still facing a possible $29 million fine over this alleged medication loss.
By Ashley Campbell