Drug Enforcement Administration

San Francisco

Christopher Nielsen, Special Agent in Charge

January 17, 2017

Contact: Casey Rettig

Phone Number: (415) 436-7994

Costco Wholesale To Pay $11.75 Million To Settle Allegations Of Lax Pharmacy Controls

Costco Failed to Maintain Records at West Sacramento Central Fill Pharmacy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Costco Wholesale will pay $11.75 million to settle allegations that its pharmacies violated the Controlled Substances (CSA) when they improperly filled prescriptions for controlled substances. The settlement resolves allegations that Costco pharmacies filled prescriptions that were incomplete, lacked valid DEA registration numbers or were for substances beyond various doctors’ scope of practice. Additionally, the settlement resolves allegations that Costco failed to keep and maintain accurate records for controlled substances at its pharmacies and centralized fill locations, which resulted in a significant shortage at the West Sacramento central fill pharmacy.
The settlement was announced today by U.S. Attorneys Annette L. Hayes for the Western District of Washington, Michael C. Ormsby for the Eastern District of Washington, Eileen M. Decker for the Central District of California, Barbara L. McQuade for the Eastern District of Michigan, and Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California.

“Pharmacies are the gatekeepers responsible for ensuring the lawful use of powerful drugs that have a legitimate medical purpose but are easily abused. The CSA provides the statutory oversight to ensure that pharmacies keep meticulous records,” U.S. Attorney Talbert stated. “The successful resolution of this matter demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to enforcing the CSA.”

“Last year, over 50,000 Americans died as a result of drug overdoses, many of which were related to the misuse of prescription drugs. This settlement demonstrates the accountability and responsibility that go along with handling controlled prescription drugs,” said DEA Assistant Administrator Louis Milione. “DEA works every day to reinforce good corporate practices through outreach and education efforts and, when appropriate, with administrative and criminal action.”

Under the settlement reached January 18, 2017, Costco acknowledges that between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2015, certain Costco pharmacies dispensed controlled substances inconsistent with their compliance obligations under the CSA and its implementing regulations. The violations include: filling prescriptions from practitioners who did not have a valid DEA number; incorrectly recording the practitioner’s DEA number; filling prescriptions outside the scope of a practitioner’s DEA registration; filling prescriptions that did not contain all the required information; failing to maintain accurate dispensing records; and failing to maintain records for their central fill locations in Sacramento, California and Everett, Washington.

U.S. Attorney McQuade stated, “In light of the prescription pill and opioid overdose epidemic we are seeing across the country, compliance with regulations governing pharmacies is more important than ever. We applaud Costco for working with DEA and taking steps to tighten up its compliance to ensure that prescription pills do not end up on the street market.”

“These are not just administrative or paperwork violations - Costco’s failure to have proper controls in place in its pharmacies played a role in prescription drugs reaching the black market,” said U.S. Attorney Decker. “Costco pharmacies in Southern California filled numerous prescriptions for drugs that should not have been sold to consumers because of its flawed system for validating DEA registration numbers.”

U.S. Attorney Ormsby said “Opioid misuse has reached epidemic levels in the United States. This important matter is yet another example of the tenacious dedication of Drug Enforcement Administration investigators in uncovering and addressing corporate regulatory noncompliance. The DEA must be commended for its superb efforts in combating the opioid problem at so many different levels, including regulatory compliance.”

“Pharmacies across this country are on the leading edge of the battle against our prescription drug abuse crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Hayes. “A company such as Costco that distributes a significant volume of controlled substances has a responsibility to ensure it complies with regulations that help prevent opioids and other dangerous drugs from being misused or otherwise added to the illegal marketplace. I commend the Drug Enforcement Administration investigators for uncovering the violations at issue in this case, and working with Costco to ensure that systems are put in place to prevent controlled substances from ending up in the wrong hands.”

To address the numerous issues uncovered in this investigation, Costco surrendered its DEA Registration at its central fill location in West Sacramento and accordingly, lost the ability to handle controlled substances. Costco also made improvements in its pharmacies by purchasing a new pharmacy management system at a total budgeted five-year cost of approximately $127 million. Additionally, Costco implemented a three-tier audit program of its pharmacy locations: Tier 1, done by pharmacy managers and regional pharmacy supervisors; Tier 2, completed by an Internal Audit group consisting of three auditors and an audit supervisor; and Tier 3, an External Audit of 40 annual audits.

Under the terms of the settlement, over the next three years, DEA is allowed to conduct unannounced and unrestricted inspections of all DEA registered Costco pharmacy locations without Administrative Inspection Warrants. The Drug Enforcement Administration monitors pharmacy prescribing practices to ensure compliance with federal law. Pharmacies found in violation face escalating penalties up to the revocation of their DEA Registration number - the authorization that allows them to write prescriptions for controlled substances.

This case was investigated by DEA Diversion Groups in Seattle, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Detroit. While this settlement is national in scope, the settlement was negotiated by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Western and Eastern Districts of Washington, Central and Eastern Districts of California and Eastern District of Michigan. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anderson Berry and Kurt A. Didier handled the matter for the Eastern District of California.

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