The pharmacy chain Walgreens has agreed to pay $80 million to settle allegations that the company violated federal rules involving the distribution of prescription painkillers. Officials with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which oversaw the investigation into prescription practices at Walgreens, said that the settlement was the largest ever in the agency’s history.
Walgreens was accused of what the DEA called an “unprecedented” number of violations of federal regulations involving record-keeping and dispensing of opioid painkillers such as oxycodone. The agency said that Walgreens failure to control how painkillers were dispensed at some locations allowed these drugs to be illegally distributed to drug users and sold on the black market.
The epidemic of prescription painkiller overdoses has reached alarming new levels in recent years. According to statistics from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15,500 prescription painkiller deaths occurred in 2009, involving drugs such as hydrocodone, methadone, and the fentanyl pain patch. The CDC says that the number of prescription painkiller overdose deaths in the U.S. has more than tripled since 1990.
As part of its settlement with the DEA, Walgreens agreed to admit that it failed to uphold federal regulations and to establish new training and compliance programs in order to prevent future abuses. Six Walgreens facilities in Florida and a dispensing facility in the state were also barred from dispensing controlled substances under the terms of the settlement.