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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Georgia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Southern District Of Georgia Announces Largest Hospital Drug Diversion Civil Penalty Settlement in U.S. History

SAVANNAH, GA: In the nation’s largest settlement of its kind involving allegations of drug diversion at a hospital, Effingham Health System has agreed to pay the United States $4.1 million to resolve allegations that Effingham Health System failed to provide effective controls and procedures to guard against theft and loss of controlled substances, leading to a significant diversion of opioids, and failing to timely report the suspected diversion to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

DEA launched an investigation in 2017 after receiving reports of diversion at Effingham Health System. DEA determined that tens of thousands of oxycodone 30mg tablets were unaccounted for, and were believed to have been diverted over more than a four-year period, in violation of the hospital’s responsibilities under the Controlled Substances Act. DEA also determined that Effingham Health System failed to notify DEA of the suspected diversion within the time required by federal law.

 “At a time when our country’s opioid crisis is ravaging communities across the country, hospitals like Effingham Health System have a critical responsibility to ensure that controlled substances are tracked and safeguarded from theft or loss and are not diverted for illegal uses,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine.  “Hospitals must adopt and maintain effective safeguards as a bulwark against diversion—the risk to the public is simply too great to accept anything less than what the law demands.”

Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division commented, “Hospitals put lives at risk when they fail to maintain accurate recordkeeping of their inventory. Such careless behavior allows for substances to be diverted and sold on the black market with no true measure of accountability. This record-setting civil penalty is a proactive step that DEA Diversion and our partners in the U.S. Attorney’s Office can take to discourage other healthcare providers from engaging in such reckless behavior.”  

Effingham Health System cooperated with the DEA’s investigation and, prior to this investigation, overhauled its pharmacy operations to help ensure that it will avoid diversions in the future. Since the investigation began, Effingham Health System has worked cooperatively with the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to finalize a plan to address the identified deficiencies in Effingham Health System’s handling of controlled substances, and entered into an agreement with the DEA to memorialize the plan. Components of the plan include quarterly internal accountability audits and requirements to keep detailed records that track all controlled substances within the hospital.

On February 27, 2018, Attorney General Sessions announced the creation of the Department of Justice Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (“PIL”) Task Force, to fight the prescription opioid crisis.  As Attorney General Sessions noted in his announcement, the Department of Justice will use all available remedies under the Controlled Substances Act against doctors, pharmacies, and others that break the law.  If you have information about any individual or entity that you believe may be unlawfully diverting or dispensing opioids for illegitimate purposes or committing health care fraud related to the opioid epidemic, please contact Assistant United States Attorney J. Thomas Clarkson (912-652-4422).

U.S. Attorney Christine commended the hard work and dedication of the DEA Savannah Resident Office, which investigated the case. Group Supervisor George M. Taylor and Diversion Investigator Matthew G. Reddish led the investigation with assistance from Diversion Investigators George Zuban and Tierra Singleton.

Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan A. Porter and Bradford C. Patrick led the investigation on behalf of the United States, with assistance from Civil Chief Shannon H. Statkus and Civil Deputy Chief J. Thomas Clarkson. The claims resolved by the settlement agreement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability. This investigation remains ongoing.

For any questions about this release, please contact the United States Attorney’s Office at (912) 652-4422.

Updated May 16, 2018