Greensboro, North Carolina - A federal court in eastern North Carolina entered a consent judgment and permanent injunction requiring a North Carolina pharmacy, Farmville Discount Drug Inc., and its owner and pharmacist-in-charge, Robert L. Crocker, to pay $600,000 in civil penalties and to permanently cease dispensing opioids or other controlled substances, the Department of Justice announced Monday.
Under the court’s order, Crocker will also surrender his license to practice pharmacy and never seek its renewal, and Farmville Discount Drug will permanently surrender its registration with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The consent order resolves a complaint filed by the United States alleging that Farmville Discount Drug and Crocker repeatedly filled prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. The United States alleged that, for years, the defendants ignored well-known “red flags” of drug diversion and drug-seeking behavior when filling prescriptions for controlled substances. These prescriptions often involved well-known, highly addictive, and highly abused painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and methadone, along with other “potentiator” drugs — drugs that heighten the euphoric effects of opioids, like diazepam (i.e., Valium), alprazolam (i.e., Xanax), and zolpidem (i.e., Ambien).
“The Department of Justice has made combating the opioid crisis one of its top priorities,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “We will work hand-in-hand with the DEA and other law enforcement partners to ensure that pharmacies that fail to uphold their obligation to dispense controlled substances lawfully will be held accountable.”
As alleged in the complaint, many prescriptions raised multiple red flags, but Crocker and Farmville Discount Drug failed to take the required steps to resolve those red flags and ensure the prescriptions’ legitimacy before filling them. The red flags allegedly ignored by Crocker and Farmville Discount Drug were numerous:
- Crocker and his pharmacy filled prescriptions for dangerous, highly abused prescription-drug cocktails for long-distance patients who saw a doctor an hour away and lived an hour away;
- The pharmacy filled hundreds of opioid prescriptions for multiple members of the same family;
- The pharmacy filled prescriptions for a prescriber that Crocker knew had been cut off from other pharmacies;
- The pharmacy filled controlled-substance prescriptions for patients who hopped from doctor to doctor or pharmacy to pharmacy.
The complaint also asserts that when other employees expressed concern to Crocker about Farmville Discount Drug’s practices, he dismissed them, allegedly saying that if a doctor wrote the prescription, the pharmacy would fill it.
The defendants have not admitted the allegations in the complaint, but the parties agreed to resolve the case without further litigation. The court adopted the parties’ agreement and entered a consent order ensuring, among other things, that Crocker and Farmville Discount Drug will never dispense opioids or other controlled substances again.
“Opioid addiction and abuse have devastated communities across our nation, and eastern North Carolina is no exception,” said Robert J. Higdon Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “As the last line of defense between these dangerously addictive substances and our communities, pharmacists and pharmacies play a critical role in stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic. The turn-a-blind-eye approach to pharmacy practice on display at Farmville Discount Drug did just the opposite; it made matters worse. Today’s order demonstrates our office’s unwavering commitment to hold all those who had a role to play in this crisis — from distributors, to prescribers, to the pharmacies who ultimately put the pills in patients’ hands — responsible for their actions.”
“DEA Diversion Investigators will continue to aggressively pursue the unlawful dispensing practices of healthcare providers,” said Robert J. Murphy, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division. “These providers should be in compliance with a set standard of rules and regulations. This civil suit and permanent injunction shows that DEA, its law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to making sure that healthcare providers are abiding by its mandates.”
Trial Attorney James W. Harlow of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorneys C. Michael Anderson and John E. Harris of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina represented the United States. The Greensboro Resident Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration investigated the case.