Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office Participates in Record Settlement: Walgreens Agrees to pay $80 Million in Civil Penalties under the Controlled Substances Act
Three Walgreens’ pharmacies repeatedly filled bogus prescriptions for highly addictive painkillers
JULY 17 (BROOKLYN, N.Y.) – Walgreen Co. (Walgreens), the nation’s largest drug store chain, agreed to pay $80 million in civil penalties for violations of the Controlled Substances Act resolving administrative actions by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Department of Justice civil investigations in the Eastern District of New York, the Southern District of Florida, the District of Colorado and the Eastern District of Michigan, as well as civil investigations by DEA nationwide. Walgreens also agreed to surrender the authority of six of its pharmacies and one of its distribution centers to distribute or dispense certain controlled substances for a period of two years. Walgreens further agreed to create a Department of Pharmaceutical Integrity to ensure compliance with regulations and to prevent the diversion of controlled substances. The details of the nationwide resolution, announced by the Southern District of Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office on June 11, 2013, can be found at http://www.justice.gov/usao/fls/PressReleases/130611-01.html.
Details surrounding the Eastern District of New York’s investigation of Walgreens were made public earlier today with the guilty plea of nurse practitioner Eva MacDowall. MacDowall, who was prosecuted by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, pled guilty in Suffolk County Court to one charge of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree in connection with her writing a bogus prescription for oxycodone that she filled at a Walgreens pharmacy in Selden, New York, on June 8, 2012. The investigation and prosecution of MacDowall revealed that Walgreens repeatedly violated the Controlled Substances Act by filling numerous prescriptions that Walgreens employees knew, or should have known, were not issued for a legitimate medical purpose. Over a two year period from July 2010 until July 2012, MacDowall filled 94 different, illegitimate prescriptions -- primarily for two highly addictive painkillers, oxycodone and hydrocodone -- at a Walgreens pharmacy in Selden and two Walgreens pharmacies in Medford.
Brian R. Crowell, Special Agent-in-Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Field Office, stated, “This is the trend of a local investigation merging with a nationwide federal investigation focused on the diversion of pain medication and its harmful effects to citizens across our country. Beginning in 2010, the Suffolk County Police Department began investigating a nurse practitioner forging prescriptions for inexplicably large amounts of oxycodone and hydrocodone filled at two Walgreens Pharmacies in Long Island, New York. Subsequently, a Federal Task Force pooled their resources which led to the national civil investigation into Walgreens CSA violations. The primary threat to the New York City region is opiate abuse, ranging from diverted pain medication to heroin. Opiate abuse has spread like cancer leaving disaster and death in its wake; there was a 6% increase of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction last year, and of all prescription drug deaths, 74% are accidental deaths. Today’s announcement demonstrates law enforcement’s collaboration at its best to combat the deadly effects of opiate abuse and identify those who threaten public health and safety and violate the law at every step in the drug supply chain.”
“The abuse of oxycodone, hydrocodone and other painkillers has become an epidemic, as overdose deaths from prescription painkillers is now more common than overdose deaths from heroin and cocaine combined,” said United States Attorney Loretta E. Lynch. “Nationwide, Walgreens repeatedly failed to live up to its obligation to safeguard highly addictive prescription drugs. Here on Long Island, these three stores allowed themselves to become a haven for prescription drug abusers, turning a blind eye as McDowall repeatedly filled one forged prescription after another. In so doing, Walgreen’s contributed to the epidemic increase in the abuse of prescription drugs that we are seeing in Long Island, and around the country.”
Suffolk County New York District Attorney Thomas J. Spota stated, “We are pleased that Suffolk County’s prosecution of this defendant aided in the exposure of improper practices at Walgreens and the successful civil action by the United States Attorneys’ Offices that ultimately forced the retailer to comply with the law and pay 80 million dollars in fines.”
In January 2012, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Drug Enforcement Administration, in conjunction with the five district attorneys in this jurisdiction, the Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments, the New York City Police Department and New York State Police, along with other key federal, state and local government partners, launched the Prescription Drug Initiative to mount a comprehensive response to what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called an epidemic increase in the abuse of so-called opioid analgesics. To date, the Prescription Drug Initiative has brought over 120 federal and local criminal prosecutions, taken civil enforcement action against a pharmacy, removed prescription authority from numerous rogue doctors, and expanded information-sharing among enforcement agencies to better target and pursue drug traffickers. The initiative also is involved in an extensive community outreach program to address the abuse of pharmaceuticals.Assistant United States Attorney Elliot M. Schachner led the civil investigation of Walgreens in the Eastern District of New York. Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Tanya Rickoff was responsible for the criminal prosecution of Eva MacDowall.