DOJ joins whistleblowers' suit against PharMerica Corp.

by Ben Vernia | August 11th, 2013

On August 9, the Department of Justice intervened in a qui tam lawsuit filed by three whistleblowers against the long-term care pharmacy company PharMerica Corp. for dispensing controlled substances and submitting claims to Medicare without valid prescriptions. According to DOJ’s press release:

The United States has filed suit against PharMerica Corp. in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the Justice Department announced today. The lawsuit alleges that PharMerica violated the False Claims Act and the Controlled Substances Act by dispensing controlled drugs without valid prescriptions and causing claims for illegally dispensed drugs to be submitted to the Medicare program.

PharMerica is a long-term care pharmacy that dispenses drugs to residents of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities. PharMerica services approximately 300,000 residents of long-term care facilities and fills approximately 40 million prescriptions annually. Many of the prescriptions filled by PharMerica are for controlled substances listed in Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule II drugs, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, can cause significant harm if used improperly and have a high potential for abuse.

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The government’s complaint alleges that PharMerica routinely dispensed Schedule II controlled drugs in non-emergency situations without first obtaining a written prescription from a treating physician. According to the complaint, PharMerica’s actions violated both the spirit and the letter of the Controlled Substances Act by enabling nursing home staff to order narcotics, and pharmacists to dispense narcotics, before confirming that a physician had made a medical judgment about whether these narcotics were necessary and should be used by the resident. The complaint alleges that PharMerica knowingly caused the submission of false claims to Medicare for these improperly dispensed Schedule II drugs, in violation of the False Claims Act.

The case was originally brought by a pharmacist formerly employed by Omnicare, in 2009; it was consolidated with a complaint filed in 2010 by two pharmacists formerly employed at a predecessor company. A copy of the the government’s complaint in intervention can be found here.

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