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Cardinal Health Hit With DEA Suspension Order Over Drug

A Cardinal Health Inc. distribution facility in Florida posed a public safety threat by shipping heavy volumes of prescription painkiller oxycodone to pharmacies, according to the U.S. government.

An investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration found the company’s Lakeland, Florida, facility shipped a “staggering” amount of oxycodone to four retail customers in the state, including two CVS Caremark Corp. pharmacies, between October 2008 and December 2011, according to documents the agency filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Washington.

The DEA said it suspended the distribution facility’s authority to ship controlled substances on Feb. 2 after determining continued operations posed an imminent danger to the public, the agency said.

“DEA’s investigation of Cardinal and its top four retail customers revealed a staggeringly high and exponentially increasing rate of oxycodone distribution from the Lakeland facility,” the DEA said.

Cardinal, based in Dublin, Ohio, sued the DEA after the suspension order was issued and obtained a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the suspension, according to court papers. The suspension order required the Lakeland facility to immediately halt shipment of all controlled substances to about 5,200 customer accounts, including pharmacies and hospitals serving hundreds of thousands of patients, Cardinal said in court papers.

Suspended Shipments

Cardinal said suspension is unnecessary because it stopped distribution of controlled substances to the pharmacies identified by the DEA, according to a court filing by the company. It suspended distributions to two independent pharmacies months ago and temporarily suspended shipment to the two CVS pharmacies.

“Cardinal Health maintains a vigorous and robust anti-diversion system, which has been described by the DEA’s own inspectors and investigations as one of the best among wholesale distributors nationwide,” the company said.

Debbie Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cardinal, declined to comment on the DEA action, citing pending litigation. The action was reported earlier in the Wall Street Journal.

The DEA said in its court filing that the Lakeland facility shipped about 50 times as much oxycodone to the four customers that the average Florida pharmacy received from Cardinal. The company repeatedly filled orders that exceeded volume thresholds that it set, and orders flagged by Cardinal as suspicious were released with little or no explanation why, the DEA said.

The case is Cardinal Health Inc. v. Eric Holder, 12-00185, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Washington).

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