U.S. can stop some drug sales at 2 CVS stores: judge
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can stop two CVS Caremark Corp pharmacies from selling potentially addictive drugs in a case involving suspected prescription drug abuse, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton vacated a temporary restraining order that had blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)from acting against the two Florida stores suspected of selling doses of the painkiller oxycodone outside legitimate channels.
Walton stayed his ruling until 10 a.m. (1500 GMT) on Wednesday to give CVS Caremark attorneys time to appeal. But the company appealed later on Tuesday. Further details were not immediately available.
CVS Caremark had asked the judge to impose a preliminary injunction that could have blocked the DEA from taking action until an administrative law judge decided the matter later this year.
Walton said he could find no reason to believe the CVS argument that DEA had acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner in ordering sales suspended or that remedial steps taken by CVS were sufficient.
"We are disappointed with today's ruling," CVS said in a statement. "Regardless of today's outcome, we remain committed to working with the DEA to do everything we can to reduce prescription drug abuse."
The litigation stems from the DEA's battle against prescription drug abuse, which has surged in the United States to eclipse abuse of most illicit drugs including heroin and cocaine.
The DEA said in court documents 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.
The federal agency cited state statistics showing a 346 percent increase in overdose deaths related to oxycodone from 2005 to 2010, and an average 11 deaths per day from oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, benzodiazepines or morphine.
In a case related to the CVS ruling, Walton last month allowed the DEA to suspend Cardinal Health Inc's license to distribute controlled substances from a Florida facility that serves about 2,700 drug stores or hospitals.
The ruling was later blocked temporarily by a U.S. appeals court. Walton said he expected the appeals court to take the same action on CVS.
The CVS stores are two of four Cardinal customers that DEA has said were inappropriately filling oxycodone prescriptions.
A CVS attorney said the company had stopped oxycodone sales at the two pharmacies. But a Justice Department attorney said suspicious sales had involved other controlled substances.
The DEA charged that between January 2008 and December 2011 the two CVS stores purchased amounts of oxycodone far in excess of normal pharmacy volumes, ignored DEA warnings and addressed the issue only after the DEA acted.
A CVS attorney told the court that the volumes were not out of line for high-volume pharmacies that maintain 24-hour service and argued that remedial steps taken by CVS had eliminated any immediate danger to the community by the time the DEA ordered sales suspended in February.
The case is Holiday CVS LLC v. Justice Department, No. 12-00191.
(Reporting By David Morgan; Editing by Gary Hill)
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