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U.S. Says Rite Aid Ignored 'Obvious Red Flags' in Opioid Prescriptions

The U.S. government is suing Rite Aid, alleging that the drugstore chain and its employees ignored “obvious red flags” in opioid prescriptions for years, contributing to an epidemic that continues to kill tens of thousands of Americans annually. The Justice Department complaint says that, between May 2014 and June 2019, Rite Aid pharmacists filled hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances, including opioids, that were “medically unnecessary” or that should have aroused suspicions because they “lacked a medically accepted indication, or were not issued in the usual course of professional practice.” The department said Rite Aid pharmacists either “ignored these red flags” or made little or no effort to investigate, the Washington Post reports. Rite Aid management, for its part, turned a blind eye and at times reprimanded employees who raised concerns, in an apparent violation of federal laws, it said. “The Justice Department is using every tool at our disposal to confront the opioid epidemic that is killing Americans and shattering communities across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland

Rite Aid is one of the largest U.S. pharmacy chains, with 2,300 stores and 6,300 pharmacists in 17 states. The government’s complaint says Rite Aid pharmacists repeatedly filled prescriptions for a trifecta of opioids, benzodiazepines, and muscle relaxants (known as “trinities”) and refilled opioid prescriptions early, even though patients’ supplies should not yet have run out. As prescriptions were filled, Rite Aid submitted “false or fraudulent claims” for reimbursement to federal health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid — a violation of the False Claims Act, according to the complaint. These actions “opened the floodgates for millions of opioid pills and other controlled substances to flow illegally out of Rite Aid’s stores,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said. Last year, CVS Health and Walgreens, two of the nation’s largest retail pharmacies, agreed to pay about $10 billion to states, cities, and Native American tribes over 10 to 15 years to settle opioid lawsuits against them. As part of the settlement agreement, the companies did not admit wrongdoing.


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