DEA investigators seeking answers in small Tennessee town
Rural Clay County pharmacies' 2017 purchases from distributors totaled more than one million pills
CELINA, Tenn. -- DEA investigators this week conducted inspections at several pharmacy locations in the Clay County, Tennessee town of Celina, following an inquiry into irregular patterns of pill purchases from drug distribution companies. DEA is now investigating possible criminal activity involving the illicit diversion of controlled prescription pharmaceuticals at each of the pharmacies in question. According to sales data, these pharmacies purchased nearly 1.5 million pills in 2017, a number not typically reflective of a rural area such as Clay County. As the nationwide opioid epidemic continues to ravage many parts of the country, DEA is increasingly utilizing its investigative and regulatory resources to aggressively pursue illicit pill diversion at multiple levels in the supply chain that have helped contribute to record overdose deaths.
"DEA's action today is one of many proactive measures we are taking to help prevent drug diversion, abuse, and trafficking that end lives and destroy families and communities," said Louisville Division Special Agent in Charge Chris Evans, who oversees DEA operations in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky. "When DEA sees abnormal patterns such as this one, we must act. Too many rural communities like Clay County are often targets for both addicts and drug traffickers who exploit the most vulnerable and who profit from addiction. We've lost too many Americans to opioid abuse."
Notice of inspections were also issued to Anderson Hometown Pharmacy, LLC at 151 MacArthur Avenue, and Walgreens at 1000 Gainesville Highway. An administrative inspection warrant was issued to another pharmacy, Clay County Express Pharmacy, LLC at 651 Brown Street. These inspections include a review of receipts and distributions, employee interviews, and other pharmacy activities such as prescriptions.
Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that preliminary data indicates that drug overdose deaths in 2017 are up seven percent from 2016 and that more than 72,000 American died last year. This is a more than two-fold increase over a decade. Of those overdose deaths, just over 49,000 were from synthetic opioids, which include prescription painkillers, heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. Pill abuse and addiction is often the starting point for heroin and fentanyl addicts.
In recent years, DEA had dramatically increased its resources to combat the opioid epidemic, including the formation of Tactical Diversion Squads throughout the United States that target multiple levels of drug diversion and who target the most egregious violators. DEA has also launched a comprehensive 360 program in cities nationwide that seek to leverage law enforcement efforts with health care community, treatment facilities, faith-based organizations, community groups, and the business community in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Since 2010, DEA has also hosted semi-annual National Prescription Drug Takeback Days that provide the opportunity for citizens to empty their medicine cabinets of any unwanted, unused, or expired medications for safe disposal.
DEA investigators in Tennessee and Kentucky are leading this investigation, with assistance from the Clay County Sheriff's Office, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy.