Federal Court Orders North Carolina Pharmacy and Pharmacist To Pay $600,000 and to Never Again Dispense Opioids or Other Controlled Substances
RALEIGH – United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. announced that today in federal court, a consent judgment and permanent injunction was entered requiring a North Carolina pharmacy, FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG, INC., as well as its owner and pharmacist-in-charge, ROBERT L. CROCKER, to pay $600,000.00 in civil penalties and to never again dispense opioids or other controlled substances. Under the Court’s order, CROCKER will also surrender his license to practice pharmacy and never seek its renewal, and FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG will permanently surrender its registration with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).CONSENT JUDGMENT AND PERMANENT INJUNCTION
The consent order resolves a complaint filed by the United States alleging that FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG and CROCKER repeatedly filled prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. The United States alleged that, for years, defendants ignored well-known “red flags” of drug diversion and drug-seeking behavior when filling prescriptions for controlled substances. These prescriptions often involved well-known, highly addictive, and highly abused painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and methadone, along with other “potentiator” drugs—drugs that heighten the euphoric effects of opioids, like diazepam (i.e., Valium), alprazolam (i.e., Xanax), and zolpidem (i.e., Ambien). Those potentiators also increase the risk of abuse and overdose.
As detailed in the complaint, many prescriptions raised multiple red flags, but CROCKER and FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG failed to take the required steps to resolve those red flags and ensure the prescriptions’ legitimacy before filling them. The red flags ignored by CROCKER and FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG were numerous:
- CROCKER and his pharmacy filled prescriptions for dangerous, highly abused prescription-drug cocktails for long-distance patients who saw a doctor an hour away and lived an hour away;
- The pharmacy filled hundreds of opioid prescriptions for multiple members of the same family;
- The pharmacy filled prescriptions for a prescriber that CROCKER knew had been cut off from other pharmacies;
- The pharmacy filled controlled-substance prescriptions for patients who hopped from doctor to doctor or pharmacy to pharmacy.
When other employees expressed concern to CROCKER about FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG’s practices, he dismissed them, saying that if a doctor wrote the prescription, the pharmacy would fill it.
For example, as set forth in the complaint, FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG dispensed thousands of high-strength opioid pills to Individual A, a person who lived approximately 60 miles from FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG. A doctor located approximately 53 miles from the pharmacy wrote individual A’s prescriptions. Approximately 77% of the prescriptions Individual A filled at FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG were for 30-mg oxycodone tablets, the highest strength immediate-release oxycodone tablet available. At one point, FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG dispensed four thirty-day supplies of 30-mg oxycodone tablets (720 tablets) for Individual A in just 66 days. And to make matters worse, FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG often dispensed oxycodone to Individual A in combination with other opioids (such as 5-mg or 10-mg methadone) or muscle relaxers (such as 350-mg carisoprodol), increasing the risk of abuse or overdose. For example, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge caution when an individual receives an opioid dosage greater than 90 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per day, at times, FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG dispensed oxycodone and methadone pills to Individual A totaling more than 300 MME per day, before adding the additional depressant effects of the muscle relaxer.
During the same period, FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG also filled more than thirty prescriptions for Individual B, who shared the same last name as Individual A and who resided at the same address as Individual A for at least a portion of the time they were both filling prescriptions at FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG. Notably, approximately 97% of the prescriptions that FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG filled for Individual B were for 30-mg oxycodone tablets—the same drug and strength that Individual A was receiving.
The claims resolved by the consent order remain allegations only, and there has been no judicial determination or admission of liability. Rather, the court adopted the parties’ agreement to resolve the case without further litigation and entered a consent order ensuring, among other things, that CROCKER and FARMVILLE DISCOUNT DRUG will never dispense opioids or other controlled substances again.
“The Department of Justice has made combating the opioid crisis one of its top priorities,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “We will work hand-in-hand with the DEA and other law enforcement partners to ensure that pharmacies that fail to uphold their obligation to dispense controlled substances lawfully will be held accountable.”
“Opioid addiction and abuse have devastated communities across our nation, and eastern North Carolina is no exception,” said United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon. “As the last line of defense between these dangerously addictive substances and our communities, pharmacists and pharmacies play a critical role in stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic. The turn-a-blind-eye approach to pharmacy practice on display at Farmville Discount Drug did just the opposite; it made matters worse. Today’s order demonstrates our office’s unwavering commitment to hold all those who had a role to play in this crisis—from distributors, to prescribers, to the pharmacies who ultimately put the pills in patients’ hands—responsible for their actions.”
Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division commented on the case, “DEA Diversion Investigators will continue to aggressively pursue the unlawful dispensing practices of healthcare providers. These providers should be in compliance with a set standard of rules and regulations. This civil suit and permanent injunction shows that DEA, its law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to making sure that healthcare providers are abiding by its mandates.”
The investigation and prosecution of this case were a joint effort by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and the Consumer Protection Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. Assistant United States Attorneys C. Michael Anderson and John E. Harris and Consumer Protection Branch Trial Attorney James W. Harlow represented the government.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.