"Suspicious" painkiller orders, DEA suspends a FL drug distribution center's sales

Mckesson Corporation fined $150 million
Posted at 1:11 AM, Jan 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-21 01:28:45-05

Pharmaceutical drug supplier McKesson Corporation has been fined and suspended from sales of certain controlled substances in several states, including Florida, after failing to flag a series of "suspicious orders," according the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Mckesson has been fined $150 million and must suspend sales of controlled substances from distribution centers in Florida, Colorado, Ohio, and Michigan.

The DEA says Mckesson fulfilled a series of "suspicious orders" for controlled substances such as oxycodone and Hydrocodone which are often abused. The opioid painkillers have also fueled the current heroin epidemic which in 2015 caused more deaths than gun-related homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Addiction Psychiatrist at Nextep Treatment Center in Fort Myers, Brandon Short, says the penalty Mckesson received is a sign of a greater problem. 

"This is a supply and demand issue," said Short. 

He provides rehabilitation treatment and therapy to patients battling addiction, and says recently most of them have been seeking help for opiate addiction. 

"There is a direct correlation between the amount of availability in this country of oxycodone, [and other] opiates that is killing Americans, which is turning Americans into opiate addicts [and] into heroin addicts," said Short.

The Florida Department of Health, sent an email to pharmacist across the state this week warning them of a pending drug shortage. The statement was later retracted because DOH officials said it was "found to be confusing," and the suspension would "only impact one distribution center in Florida and impacts only the handling of hydromorphone." 

According to DOH, the the distribution center affected by the suspension is located in Lakeland. However, Mckesson can still supply Florida pharmacies with hydromorphone by routing the orders through out-of-state distribution centers. Fort Myers Pharmacist T.J. Depaola says simply disrupting the supplier isn't helpful because it places a burden on pharmacist treating patients with legitimate chronic pain issues. 

"It's a terrible way of policing, essentially what they're going to try do is, rather than go in and physically shut down what they call 'pill mill physicians' or 'dirty doctors' they cut the supply," said Depaola. He also says it can have an opposite effect and turn more people to illicit drugs. 

"You have patients that were being treated for chronic pain; all of a sudden they couldn't get meds, they went to heroin because that's the closest thing to what they were on before," said Depaola. 

It's not clear how long Mckesson will be banned from processing sales from its Florida distribution center. 

According to the DEA, the settlement also impose new and enhanced compliance regulations on Mckesson's distribution system.