Major Oxy Distributor Forced to Shutter Florida Pill Mill

By Dirk Hanson 05/15/12

Today the DEA imposed a two-year suspension on Cardinal Health, the second largest distributor of the powerful painkillers.

Shut down (for two years) Thinkstock

It’s getting increasingly hard to keep track of where prescription drugs end up in America. Of course, when one of the country’s largest pill suppliers turns a blind eye to suspicious shipments of painkillers from its own warehouse, it’s downright impossible. The federal government’s war on illegal prescription drugs turned tangible today when Cardinal Health, the country’s second-largest “pill mill,” agreed to suspend shipments of controlled drugs from one of its Florida facilities. There were no fines or arrests, and Cardinal Health wasn’t required to admit any actual wrongdoing, but it did agree to a two-year ban on shipments of prescription drugs from the facility after the DEA alleged that the company—along with two CVS Caremark pharmacies in Orlando—was distributing Oxycodone, the active ingredient in Oxycontin and Percocet, “far in excess of legitimate medical needs,” according to the Washington Post.

Cardinal Health is a major player in America’s health care supply chain, and the company has been in the DEA’s sights since February, when the agency shuttered the Lakeland, Florida, warehouse. Officials had uncovered a suspicious history of large-scale pill shipments to a small number of nearby pharmacies. The DEA pulled Cardinal’s license to ship drugs from the warehouse, alleging that a large quantity of the prescription painkiller Vicodin had been shipped to pharmacies from that location. Cardinal Health went to court over the closure, and lost. It wasn't the first time the DEA had cited the same Florida facility for “failing to prevent illegal distribution of pharmaceuticals.” In 2008, Cardinal Health paid a fine of $34 million for failing to inform the DEA of suspicious orders for hydrocodone, the primary ingredient in Vicodin.

The settlement caps months of negotiations and hearings over “anti-diversion procedures,” and apparently clears Cardinal Health of any further administrative sanctions. According to the DEA complaint, Cardinal Health didn't take adequate precautions to make sure all that Vicodin was going where it was supposed to go—into the hands of legitimate patients.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]