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Press Release

Rite Aid Corporation and Affiliates Agree to Settle False Claims Act and Controlled Substance Act Allegations Related to Opioid Dispensing

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department today announced that Rite Aid Corporation (Rite Aid) and 10 subsidiaries and affiliates have agreed to settle the government’s allegations under the False Claims Act (FCA) and Controlled Substances Act (CSA) asserted in United States ex rel. White et al. v. Rite Aid Corp., et al., No. 1:21-cv-1239 (N.D. Ohio). Under the settlement, the government will be paid $7.5 million and have an allowed, unsubordinated, general unsecured claim of $401.8 million in Rite Aid’s bankruptcy case that is pending in the District of New Jersey. During the relevant time period, Rite Aid operated one of the country’s largest retail pharmacy chains with over 2,200 retail pharmacies in 17 states.

“Filling unnecessary prescriptions for powerful and addictive opioids, as the government alleged here, not only takes a toll on our communities, but also violates the law,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “As today’s settlement illustrates, the Justice Department is committed to holding pharmacies accountable for their role in the nation’s opioid crisis.”

“Pharmacies and pharmacists have an affirmative legal duty to ensure that the prescriptions they fill are legitimate,” said U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko for the Northern District of Ohio. “When they disregard this responsibility and instead ignore red flags indicating that prescriptions for addictive painkillers are invalid, they violate the public’s trust and harm the community they are supposed to serve — all to make a buck. Our settlement with Rite Aid reinforces the Northern District of Ohio’s continued commitment to combatting the opioid crisis. My office and our law enforcement partners will continue to battle this epidemic by ensuring that corporate actors comply with their legal obligations, which help to restrict unwarranted public access to highly addictive medications, and thereby fight to keep vulnerable members of our communities from becoming addicted to opioids.”

The government’s complaint alleges that, from May 2014 through June 2019, Rite Aid knowingly dispensed at least hundreds of thousands of unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances that (1) lacked a legitimate medical purpose and were not issued in the usual course of professional practice and/or (2) were not valid prescriptions, were not for a medically accepted indication or were medically unnecessary. These unlawful prescriptions included, for example, prescriptions for the dangerous, highly diverted combination of drugs known as “the trinity,” prescriptions for excessive quantities of opioids, such as highly addictive oxycodone and fentanyl, and prescriptions issued by prescribers who Rite Aid pharmacists had repeatedly identified internally as suspicious and as writing unlawful, unnecessary prescriptions. The government further alleges that Rite Aid filled these prescriptions despite clear “red flags,” which highly indicated the prescriptions were unlawful and which pharmacists are trained to recognize. Rite Aid also allegedly ignored substantial evidence that its stores were dispensing unlawful prescriptions, including specific concerns raised by its pharmacists, and intentionally deleted internal notes about suspicious prescribers written by Rite Aid pharmacists, such as “writing excessive dose[s] for oxycodone,” and “DO NOT FILL CONTROLS.” By knowingly dispensing unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances, the government alleges that Rite Aid violated the CSA and, where Rite Aid sought reimbursement from federal healthcare programs, also violated the FCA. 

Along with Rite Aid Corporation, the government’s complaint names as defendants the following Rite Aid subsidiaries: Rite Aid Hdqtrs Corp.; Rite Aid of Connecticut Inc.; Rite Aid of Delaware Inc.; Rite Aid of Maryland; Rite Aid of Michigan; Rite Aid of New Hampshire; Rite Aid of New Jersey; Rite Aid of Ohio; Rite Aid of Pennsylvania and Rite Aid of Virginia.

“Pharmacies and pharmacists have a critical responsibility to ensure controlled substances are dispensed lawfully and safely to the public. This includes highly addictive opioids as we continue to see the impact of the opioid crisis,” said Deputy Inspector General Christian J. Schrank of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “HHS-OIG is entering into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with Rite Aid, which includes a prescription drug claims review to have an Independent Review Organization determine whether prescription drugs are properly prescribed, dispensed, and billed.  HHS-OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold providers accountable that put the public at risk.”

“America continues to live through the worst opioid epidemic we have ever seen. Rite Aid contributed to this crisis by ignoring obvious red flags and dispensing hundreds of thousands of unnecessary opioids,” said Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “DEA will continue to do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of Americans and to end the opioid epidemic.”

The civil settlement includes the resolution of claims that certain Rite Aid pharmacies in Washington State violated the CSA by filling prescriptions written by prescribers who lacked proper controlled substance prescribing authority. The settlement also resolves claims brought in 2019 under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the FCA by Andrew White, Mark Rosenberg and Ann Wegelin, who all previously worked for Rite Aid at various pharmacies. The FCA authorizes private parties to sue on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in any recovery, and permits the United States to take over the lawsuit, as it did here in part. The relators will receive 17% of the government’s FCA recovery in this matter.

In addition to the civil settlement, Rite Aid has entered into agreements with DEA and HHS-OIG to address its obligations going forward. Rite Aid and DEA entered a memorandum of agreement (MOA) designed to increase communication between the company, its retailers and DEA. Employees will receive additional training to help them identify illegitimate prescriptions and minimize the risk of drug diversion. The MOA also requires Rite Aid to create and keep materials relevant to DEA investigations for a minimum of five years. Rite Aid further commits to implementing and managing an anonymous hotline for employees, patients and the public to report suspected illegal dispensing of highly diverted controlled substances as well as suspected violations of the CSA. Rite Aid has also entered into a corporate integrity agreement (CIA) with HHS-OIG. The CIA includes a prescription claims drug review to have an Independent Review Organization to determine whether prescription drugs are properly prescribed, dispensed and billed.

The settlement was approved on June 28 by the bankruptcy court as part of Rite Aid’s plan of reorganization, which is expected to become effective later this summer. The amount the government will recover on its unsecured claim under the settlement will depend on the ultimate amount of assets available to the bankruptcy estate for distribution to unsecured creditors.

The Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio handled this matter. The DEA Cleveland Division, FBI Cleveland Field Office and HHS-OIG provided substantial assistance in the investigation.

Senior Trial Counsel Christopher Wilson of the Civil Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patricia Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Berry and Kathryn Andrachik for the Northern District of Ohio handled the White matter. Assistant Director Mary Schmergel and Trial Attorneys Gregory Werkheiser and Ryan Lamb of the Civil Division’s Corporate/Financial Litigation Section are handling the Rite Aid bankruptcy.

Today’s settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the FCA. Tips and complaints from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement can be reported to the HHS at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

The claims asserted against the defendants are allegations only. There has been no determination of liability.

Updated July 10, 2024

False Claims Act
Press Release Number: 24-558