UPDATE | Judge lifts DEA suspension for West Virginia pharmacy
A federal judge has lifted the suspension of a West Virginia pharmacy's ability to dispense prescription drugs.
The Associated Press reports U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin lifted the suspension against Oak Hill Hometown Pharmacy last week -- a suspension that U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced in August.
Goodwin says federal prosecutors failed to adequately prove the pharmacy posed a public health risk.
Stuart says the pharmacy had filled about 2,000 prescriptions for a widely abused drug used to treat opioid addiction. He says more than half of the prescriptions came from an out-of-state clinic and that almost all prescriptions were paid for in cash.
West Virginia by far leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths.
A pharmacy in Oak Hill has had its registration suspended after federal investigators say it posed an "imminent danger to the public health or safety."
An order for the suspension was issued to Oak Hill Hometown Pharmacy Thursday. This means they can no longer fill prescriptions for schedule II through schedule V narcotics.
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart's office said this comes after improper dispensing from at least December 2016 to March 2019. "The red flags were obvious, and when we investigated the red flats and did the initial administrative inspection, it was very clear there were problems," Stuart said.
Most of the prescriptions that led to the suspension were for a schedule II narcotic, Subutex. It is a drug commonly prescribed to drug users to help them get over an opioid addiction.
"However, when you inject Subutex into your veins, it gives you the same effects as an opiate, and it's one of the most widely abused drugs in the country."
Stuart said about 2,000 prescriptions were filled, and many of them were from out-of-state doctors. Patients traveled up to 600 miles for their prescriptions, and many paid in cash.
Regular customers at Oak Hill Hometown Pharmacy said they were shocked to see the closed sign hanging in the door. "I thought an awful lot of him. I still have to see some proof to believe it," customer David Painter said.
Many customers are also concerned about their medication needs. "I have to have my meds. I'm on heart pills, everything now," customer Samuel Jeffries said.
"The folks who are headed to the pharmacy today for legitimate prescriptions with an important medical necessity, we urge those folks to contact the Department of Health and Human Resources so they can be contacted to another pharmacy," Stuart said.
DEA employees at the pharmacy told WSAZ they seized the pharmacy's controlled substances, but those with prescriptions already filled will be able to pick their medication up when the store reopens. The store should reopen once the DEA finishes their job in the store, which is expected to be in the near future.
"I have to have it all, and people need to really quickly get somewhere to get their medication changed or something until this gets straightened out," Jeffries said.
Stuart said this suspension is another example of West Virginia cracking down on drug distributors.
"I think it's important we as West Virginia get a reputation across the country about being the toughest states in the nation when it comes to drug dealers. Those people from Detroit who come here and poison our kids, but equally important is that we crack down on those prescribers, those medical providers and those pharmacists filling those prescriptions," he said.
However, Stuart said he is concerned doctors and patients who truly need opioids are not getting the help they need.
"I worry about those who legitimately need opiates. Doctors who want to write that opiate prescription are afraid to do that today. Listen, a legitimate medical prescription, writing that for a reason that's necessary, for a terminally ill cancer patient, those are critically important." he said.
A pharmacy in Oak Hill, West Virginia has had its DEA registration suspended after federal investigators say it posed an "imminent danger to the public health or safety."
An order for the suspension was issued to Oak Hill Hometown Pharmacy Thursday.
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart's office says this comes after improper dispensing from at least December 2016 to March 2019.
They say, during that time, the pharmacy filled about 2,000 prescriptions for a "widely-abused" schedule III narcotic, Subutex, in the face of "obvious red flags" of drug abuse and diversion.
Federal prosecutors say more than half of the prescriptions came from an out-of-state clinic located about 200 miles from the pharmacy. Customers drove long distances, some more than 600 miles, to get those prescriptions filled. About 96 percent of those prescriptions were paid for in cash. Patients also traveled long distances for even partial refills.
The DEA executed a search warrant at the pharmacy on November 28, 2018. Following that search warrant, investigators say the pharmacy curtailed filling out-of-state Subutex prescriptions. However, since that time, pharmacists resumed filling prescriptions, despite the red flags, through at least March 2019.
Investigators say the suspension of Oak Hill Hometown Pharmacy’s registration means the pharmacy cannot fill prescriptions for any schedule II to V narcotics. They can fill prescriptions for any non-controlled substances.
The pharmacy was closed Thursday afternoon. It is unclear at this time if it will remain closed for the duration of the suspension.
The pharmacy will have an opportunity to show the DEA why its registration should not be revoked. That will happen at an undetermined location on Oct. 15, 2019. The pharmacy also has 30 days to file a written request for a hearing or file a waiver. If the pharmacy fails to file that request or waiver, the pharmacy will have waived its right to a hearing and a final order may be issued.
Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.