News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California

Westside Plaza Pharmacy Agrees To Pay Civil Monetary Penalties To Resolve Controlled Substance Act Claims

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
 

www.usdoj.gov/usao/cae

usacae.edcapress@usdoj.gov

 

Docket #: 2:13-cv-02230-GEB-CKD

 

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today the successful resolution of a civil prosecution alleging violations of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) against Westside Plaza Pharmacy, a retail pharmacy in Modesto and its owner Suwonnee Pongnorsing.

According to court documents, Westside Plaza will pay the United States $350,000 to settle the federal claims. The United States filed a civil complaint alleging multiple recordkeeping violations, the failure to conduct a required inventory, the failure to report to the Drug Enforcement Administration suspicious prescriptions and the improper dispensing of controlled substances. The CSA and its implementing regulations require DEA registrants to report suspicious prescriptions and drug orders to the DEA. Here, the United States alleged that two of Westside Plaza’s suppliers alerted the pharmacy of their concerns about Westside Plaza’s suspicious drug ordering patterns. Ultimately, one supplier stopped filling the Pharmacy’s controlled substance orders because they repeatedly exceeded the Pharmacy’s regulatory limits. The other supplier threatened to halt shipments unless Westside Plaza ceased filling prescriptions of a certain doctor.

The United States contended the suppliers’ alerts and the volume and frequency of the doctor’s prescriptions were such that Westside Plaza should have realized the doctor was not performing a bona fide underlying medical examination of the patients for whom he was writing prescriptions. Westside Plaza’s failure to cease filling these suspicious prescriptions and report the incidents to the DEA subjected the Pharmacy to CSA liability. As part of the settlement agreement, Westside Plaza and Mrs. Pongnorsing agreed not to contest the complaint’s allegations. Westside Plaza surrendered its DEA Registration earlier during the initial investigation. Separately, the United States has indicted a physician for whom Westside Plaza had been filling prescriptions.

“Controlled substances have a useful and legitimate medical purpose for patients lawfully consuming scheduled drugs. While the CSA provides the statutory oversight and an enforcement mechanism to curb abuse, physicians and pharmacists are the gatekeepers responsible for ensuring the lawful use of these powerful drugs. Physicians must write valid prescriptions, and pharmacists may only fill valid prescriptions. When, as here, responsible parties ignore their duties, accountability of the drugs may be lost and the potential for prescription abuse heightened. In addition to prosecuting CSA cases civilly and criminally, my office is a principal member of the Action Committee on Teenage Prescription Drug Abuse, an interagency group dedicated to educating families and the community about the dangers of substance abuse,” stated United States Attorney Wagner.

“Prescription drug abuse is a serious concern for the Drug Enforcement Administration. When pharmacies like Westside Plaza improperly dispense controlled substances and violate regulations that are intended to keep the public safe, we will seek appropriate civil or criminal remedies. Today’s settlement holds Westside Plaza and Mrs. Pongnorsing responsible for failing to act appropriately,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Bruce C. Balzano.

Assistant United States Attorney Kurt A. Didier prosecuted the case.

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