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CVS, Cardinal win round in DEA fight

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WASHINGTON — Cardinal Health Inc. and CVS Caremark Corp. have won reprieves from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) efforts to have them stop selling certain prescription drugs in Florida.

In separate rulings a week apart, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed to consider appeals from Cardinal and CVS to lower court rulings backing the DEA’s actions against a Cardinal distribution center and a pair of CVS pharmacies in the central part of the state.

As a result, the appeals court temporarily lifted the DEA’s suspension of Cardinal’s distribution of controlled substances from its Lakeland, Fla., facility and the agency’s efforts to suspend the licenses of two CVS stores in Sanford, Fla.

The DEA said it issued those orders in early February because of concerns that Cardinal and CVS were not adequately watching for prescription abuse.

The agency said the two CVS pharmacies were inappropriately filling prescriptions for oxycodone, which can be highly addictive. They also had suspicious sales of other controlled substances.

DEA agents stated that the two pharmacies, which are located just six miles apart, ordered more than 3 million oxycodone pills in 2011, more than 20 times the national average.
A CVS attorney, however, told the court that the volumes were not out of line for high-volume pharmacies that maintain 24-hour service.

CVS also argued that the DEA had acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner and that remedial steps taken internally were sufficient.

Lawyers for the drug chain stressed that the two pharmacies had already drastically scaled back sales of oxycodone pills by the time of the DEA action, and stripping them even temporarily of their licenses would do irreparable harm.

The court’s decision to consider CVS’ appeal came a day after a federal judge here agreed to uphold the DEA’s actions and a week after the court agreed to accept Cardinal’s appeal.

“The numerous twists and turns in this case highlight the enormous complexity of the issue,” Cardinal said in a statement released after the appeals court’s ruling.

CVS echoed those sentiments, saying it was glad the appeals court agreed to take another look at the case.

“We are pleased that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals granted us an administrative stay as we pursue our appeal, enabling us to continue to serve patients who depend on us for their care,” the company said in a statement. “We remain fully supportive of measures taken by law enforcement to reduce prescription drug abuse."

The ongoing litigation between the DEA and Cardinal and CVS stems from the agency’s battle against prescription drug abuse, which has surged in the United States to eclipse abuse of most illicit drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

In court documents to support its decision to suspend the Cardinal and CVS licenses, the DEA said that about 7 million Americans abuse pharmaceuticals made with controlled substances for purposes not related to medicine and that Florida is the center of the growing epidemic.


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