Cardinal loses round in DEA painkiller distribution fight

A federal judge has ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration can block Cardinal Health from distributing controlled substances from one of its Florida facilities. Earlier this month, the DEA suspended Cardinal’s license after finding that the company – which is one of the nation’s largest distributors of pharmaceuticals – sold excessive amounts of oxycodone to four Florida pharmacies. (The suspension relates only to the company’s license to distribute controlled substances from its Lakeland, Fla. facility, which the DEA claims shipped 50 times as much oxycodone to its top four customers than it has shipped to its other Florida retail customers.)

Cardinal challenged the suspension in federal court, and both the company and the DEA filed documents that give an inside look into how prescription painkillers have flooded the black market.

Cardinal was granted a temporary restraining order blocking the suspension after convincing a different judge that the move would disrupt drug shipments to more than 2,500 pharmacy customers in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The company said it has “robust controls and performs careful due diligence,” noting that in the past four years, it has stopped shipping controlled medicines to more than 350 pharmacies it determined posed an unreasonable risk of diversion, including 160 in Florida alone.

But during a hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton dissolved the temporary restraining order. Cardinal plans to appeal the ruling, saying it has spent millions of dollars to fight prescription drug diversion.

“We have genuine respect for the work of the DEA, but effectively addressing prescription drug abuse requires a very different approach than does the war on illicit drugs,” the company said in a statement. “We want to be part of a new, more effective solution to stop prescription drug abuse, without disrupting legitimate use.”

About Erin Marie Daly

I’m a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. My current project is a book on prescription drug and heroin addiction that will be published in August 2014 by Counterpoint Press.
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