FORT MYERS — A Walgreens pharmacy in Fort Myers will join five other Florida stores to fight the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which is trying to revoke their licenses to fill controlled substances, according to the DEA.
The Fort Myers pharmacy is at 1525 Colonial Blvd. The others are in Hudson, Oviedo, Port Richey, and two pharmacies are in Fort Pierce. A distribution center in Jupiter also faces revocation, according to the DEA.
The pharmacies last week were served an “order to show cause” as part of an administrative process to present why the DEA should not revoke their licenses to prescribe controlled substances, said Mia Ro, a DEA spokeswoman in Miami.
An administrative hearing is scheduled for April 23, when the pharmacies will present their cases, she said.
No action has been taken now against the stores’ licenses so they are still able to fill prescriptions for pain medications and other controlled substances to customers, she said.
Walgreens spokesman Jim Graham said the Fort Myers pharmacy voluntarily stopped accepting prescriptions for a certain class of controlled substances in May, a sign of the company’s willingness to work with the DEA to help address prescription drug abuse.
“We take our obligations under the Controlled Substances Act very seriously, and we continue to take steps to ensure the health of our customers and the communities in which we operate, and to act in a spirit of cooperation with the DEA,” Graham said in a statement.
“We have taken a number of steps in recent years, particularly beginning in 2011, to provide additional guidance and training to our pharmacies on the proper handling of controlled substances.”
For instance, the company has made changes to its ordering and inventory systems, and now has quantity limits for all controlled substances, he said.
“These actions have resulted in a significant decline in the number of tablets dispensed by our pharmacies in Florida for the most commonly abused pain management drug,” he said. “We firmly believe that addressing prescription drug abuse will require all parties — including leaders in the community, physicians, pharmacies, distributors and regulators — to play a role in finding practical solutions to combating abuse while balancing patient access to critical medication.”
The hearing will be in Arlington, Va., before a DEA administrative law judge, Ro said.
“The hearing could go on for weeks or months,” she said.
On April 4, the DEA in Miami inspected the five Walgreens stores and the distribution center to determine if the pharmacies were dispensing prescriptions for legitimate medical purposes, the DEA said.
Based on the inspections, the Walgreens distribution center faced an immediate suspension order Sept. 14, which curtailed its ability to handle controlled substances.
Abuse of prescription drugs involving controlled substances, such as oxycodone and other pain medications, and the number of deaths from overdoses now exceeds the death rate from motor vehicle accidents in 2009, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
In both 2009 and 2010, abuse of oxycodone and alprazolam was responsible for the most drug-related deaths and that trend is continued again during the last two years, the DEA reported.