The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s attempt to stop two Florida CVS pharmacies from selling painkillers suffered a setback on Wednesday. The DEA had issued suspension orders to the Orlando pharmacies as part of their efforts to combat federal drug crimes involving oxycodone and other prescription painkillers. Florida’s reputation as a hub for so-called “pill mills” has led federal law enforcement authorities to take aggressive steps against anyone involved in the distribution of pain killers.

The pharmacies protested the action, pointing out that they had already agreed to cease all distribution of oxycodone. The pharmacies questioned whether the immediate suspension was necessary as the matter would ultimately be decided in court. They appealed the suspension and were granted a stay by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing them to continue operation. The case calls into question some of the tactics used by the DEA to get control of the prescription drug abuse problem in Florida and across the nation.

In addition to the voluntary cessation of oxycodone distribution, the CVS pharmacies had informed 22 Central Florida doctors that they would no longer fill any controlled substance prescriptions coming from their offices. That action shows the position that pharmacies and pharmacists are facing. When a licensed physician prescribes a medication, how much responsibility does the pharmacy bear for scrutinizing that order? For now, the DEA has claimed that the CVS pharmacies did not have adequate measures in place to verify the legitimacy of prescriptions. CVS responded with an acknowledgement that it fully supported measures designed to reduce prescription, but needed to be allowed to continuing serving patients.

The pharmacies will continue to operate for now, but many others may soon find themselves in an uncomfortable position. It is not inconceivable that pharmacists could soon face criminal charges for filling prescriptions for oxycodone. The DEA will obviously go to great lengths to combat what it has termed an “imminent danger” to the public.

Source: The Orlando Sentinel, “Appeals court halts DEA’s efforts to block drug sales at Sanford CVS pharmacies,” by Amy Pavuk, 14 March 2012

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