(Reuters) — The US government sued Rite Aid Corp. on Monday, accusing the pharmacy chain of missing “red flags” because it illegally filled hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances, including opioids.
In a complaint filed in Cleveland federal court, the Justice Department said Rite Aid repeatedly filled prescriptions from May 2014 to June 2019 that were medically unnecessary, for off-label use or not issued in the ordinary course of business.
“The Department of Justice is using every tool at our disposal to confront the opioid epidemic that is killing Americans and dividing communities across the country,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
Rite Aid pharmacies were accused of ignoring obvious signs of abuse, including in prescribing “trinities,”; a combination of opioids, benzodiazepines and muscle relaxants that drug addicts preferred for their heightened euphoric effect.
The Justice Department also said Rite Aid intentionally removed some pharmacists’ internal warnings about suspicious prescribers, such as “cash only pills???,” while urging them to “pay attention to everything in writing.”
“These practices opened the floodgates for millions of opioid pills and other controlled substances to flow illegally out of Rite Aid’s stores,” Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said.
Rite Aid is one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, with more than 2,330 stores in 17 US states. It did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Justice Department accused Rite Aid of violating the federal False Claims Act by submitting false prescription claims to government health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.