Lack of Pharmacy Oversight Contributed to Opioid Crisis

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The opioid crisis has highlighted problems with Pennsylvania’s prescription drug monitoring system. Over the past few years the Pennsylvania Department of Health has worked on a statewide database for monitoring schedule II – V controlled substances.

Lack of oversight of pharmacist dispensed drugs played a roll in fueling the opioid crisis. Several large pharmacy chains, including Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Giant Eagle and Rite Aid are all included in the multi-district litigation which will soon be heard by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in an Ohio federal court in May.

The prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) would require dispensers to check first with the program database before filling prescriptions for patients who meet any of the following criteria:

  • Patients traveling unusually far distances to fill their prescriptions;
  • Nearly identical prescriptions written by the same doctor for two people with the same last name and same address;
  • Filling prescriptions for drug cocktails;
  • Patients paying for drugs in cash;
  • Filling prescriptions for the same drug in different quantities for the same patients; and
  • Early refills.

The purpose of a drug monitoring database is to provide authorities with the data needed to find and prevent pharmacies from acting as pill mills. However, several large pharmacies in Ohio have requested Ohio Board of Pharmacy’s OARSS database . The defendants argue the database could show that a majority of the prescriptions were actually filled by smaller pharmacies not named in the suit.

Polster granted the defendants request, then later revoked it due to patient privacy concerns prompting the pharmacies to file an emergency motion with the Sixth Circuit District Court asking for Polster to be removed from the MDL. New York provided pharmacy defendants similar data for a case being heard by the state courts.

The pharmacies claim in their filings that government data shows that between 2006 – 2014, the defendants dispensed 58% of the opioids distributed in the region, while non-defendants dispensed 42%.

Opioid Dispensing Guidelines: Pharmacists’ Role in Combating Epidemic, law.com, July 6, 2020

Pharmacies facing lawsuits want Ohio’s list of opioid prescriptions to defend themselves, Legal Newsline July 7, 2020

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