U.S. alleges Rite Aid ‘opened the floodgates’ for illegal opioid market

Drugstore chain Rite Aid Corp. fueled the nation’s opioid crisis for several years by knowingly filling hundreds of thousands of illegal prescriptions for drugs like oxycodone and fentanyl, the U.S. alleged in a complaint announced Monday by the Justice Department.

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The government’s complaint, which lists Rite-Aid and several of its state divisions in the Northeast and Midwest, alleged that from May 2014 to June 2019, Rite Aid filled those prescriptions without any legitimate purpose. And it said the prescriptions came from prescribers whom Rite Aid’s pharmacists “repeatedly identified internally as writing illegitimate prescriptions.”

The government, whose case was aided by whistleblowers, also alleges that the drugstore chain “compounded its failure to act by intentionally deleting internal notes about suspicious prescribers written by Rite Aid pharmacists and directing district managers to tell pharmacists ‘to be mindful of everything that is put in writing.’”

In allegedly doing so, the complaint said, Rite Aid violated the Controlled Substances Act. The government also said Rite Aid violated the False Claims Act in instances where it sought reimbursement from federal healthcare programs.

“These practices 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 in a statement Monday.

The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio and the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

The Justice Department said three whistleblowers who all worked at Rite Aid Pharmacies filed an action in 2019 that allows private parties to sue on behalf of the U.S. for false claims and allow the government to take over the lawsuit. The agency said the U.S. had taken over the suit “in part.”

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