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Middle Tennessee Pharmacies Ordered to Stop Dispensing Opioids after Deaths, Overdoses

CELINA, Tenn. (WZTV) — Two pharmacies, their owner and three pharmacists in a small Tennessee town have been issued a restraining order after claims that their 'unlawful' dispensing of opioids is linked to two deaths and multiple overdoses.

Last year, FOX 17 News reported on the DEA investigation into Celina, where agents said pharmacists bought 1.5 million pain pills in 2017. That's enough for 270 pain pills for every man, woman, and child living in Clay County.

Now, the Justice Department has ordered a first-of-its-kind action to stop certain businesses from dispensing controlled substances.

“The action supported today by the Drug Enforcement Administration should serve as a warning to those in the pharmacy industry who choose to put profit over customer safety,” said D. Christopher Evans, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Louisville Field Division, which covers Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. “Pharmacists serve on the front lines of America’s opioid epidemic and they share responsibility with physicians to protect those whom they serve from the dangers associated with prescription medications. We will be vigilant in holding them accountable,” Evans added.

A complaint has been filed against Oakley Pharmacy, Inc., Dale Hollow Pharmacy and Xpress Pharmacy, the pharmacies’ owner, Thomas Weir, and pharmacists John Polston, Michael Griffith, and Larry Larkin.

The complaint alleges the pharmacies and pharmacists ignored "red flags" or warning signs of abuse of unusually high dosages of oxycodone and other opioids - then billed falsely Medicare for illegally distributed opioids. This is in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and the False Claims Act.

The reported 'unlawful' dispensing of opioids has been tied to at least two deaths and numerous overdoses within a short time of obtaining drugs from the accused pharmacies.

“Pharmacies and pharmacists have a legal obligation to dispense controlled substances properly, so as not to put patients’ health at risk,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will use every available tool to stop individuals and entities responsible for the improper distribution of controlled substances.”

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