By Robert Boczkiewicz La Junta Tribune-Democrat
DENVER -- A national pharmacy company that supplies drugs to long-term healthcare facilities, including in Southern Colorado, is paying a $15.3 million penalty for allegedly violating a federal drug control law.
The penalty settles allegations authorities made against the company, Omnicare Inc., for allowing opioids and other controlled drugs to be dispensed without a valid prescription at facilities such as nursing homes.
“The abuse of opioids and other controlled substances has taken a heavy toll in Colorado and our country,” said Jason Dunn, U.S. Attorney for Colorado, who announced Wednesday's development.
“It is critical that every company involved in the dispensing of these drugs strictly follows the controls required by (the federal Controlled Substances Act), he said in a written statement. "And when they don’t, we will work to ensure that an appropriate penalty is imposed.”
In Colorado, Omnicare Inc. operates pharmacies in Pueblo, Golden and Grand Junction, selling drugs regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to long-term care facilities for their patients.
Omnicare is based in Cincinnati and is paying the penalty to the federal government.
The Omnicare pharmacy in Pueblo was one of many Omnicare pharmacies in various states that allegedly violated federal drug controls, a spokesman for Dunn told The Pueblo Chieftain.
The spokesman said he can not say how many care facilities are served by the Omnicare pharmacy in Pueblo, nor which facilities they are.
The DEA investigated Omnicare in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state, working with the U.S. Attorney's Offices in those states, plus Utah, Dunn said.
Omnicare's daily deliveries of medications to residents of care facilities include controlled substances in “emergency kits,” which are to be dispensed to patients on an emergency basis.
Dunn said those kits include opioids and other controlled substances that are commonly abused and diverted.
He said the kits remain part of Omnicare’s inventory and must be tightly controlled and tracked. The controlled substances may be dispensed only pursuant to a valid prescription.
The federal government alleged that Omnicare violated the law in handling emergency prescriptions, its controls over the emergency kits, and its processing of written prescriptions that did not have reequired prescriber’s signature or DEA number.
Authorities said the investigation found that Omnicare failed to control emergency kits by improperly allowing care facilities to remove opioids and other controlled substances from the kits days before doctors provided a valid prescription. The investigation also revealed that Omnicare allegedly repeatedly failed to document and report oral emergency prescriptions of controlled substances.
The acting DEA administrator said his law enforcement agency "is committed to keeping our communities safe by holding companies like Omnicare accountable for such failures, while ensuring continuity of care and necessary access to emergency prescription drug supplies.”
In settling the allegations, Omnicare did not admit liability.
The U.S. Justice Department announced in 2009 that Ominicare paid the federal government $8 million to settle the government's allegations that the company paid kickbacks to nursing homes in return for getting business from the homes.