Judge rules DEA must explain shipment suspension

By Nedra Pickler

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal judge on Monday ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration to explain its rationale for trying to shut down a Florida pharmaceutical distribution center.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said at the end of a hearing that he will give the DEA until the end of next week to submit its reasoning for issuing an order against the distribution center run by Cardinal Health Inc. so he can determine whether it was appropriate.

Walton said he wants to make sure the DEA is not shutting down a business without due process, and he can't determine that from simply reviewing the suspension order without more information from the agency.

To combat the abuse of pain pills like oxycodone, the DEA issued orders earlier this month to suspend the sale of controlled substances by two CVS pharmacies in the Orlando area and Cardinal Health's Lakeland-based center that supplied drugs to the stores. The agency said the pharmacies were dispensing a voluminous amount of oxycodone far in excess of legitimate needs -- the first time stores in a national pharmacy chain were targets of suspension orders to fight Florida's prescription drug abuse problem.

But CVS and Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health persuaded federal judges to halt the DEA's suspension efforts. The companies argued that the agency did not demonstrate an imminent danger to public safety required to shut down their sales and in fact could harm public health by cutting sick patients off from their medicines.

Cardinal Health attorney Randy Moss told Walton in court Monday that the company asked DEA to tell them which stores were distributing drugs illegitimately so they could cut them off. But Justice Department lawyer Lee Reeves responded that the problem with the distribution center was that it failed to maintain effective control measures to prevent illegitimate distribution after being cited in 2008. The company paid $34 million to settle claims that it failed to report to the DEA suspicious orders of the painkiller hydrocodone, best known under the brand name Vicodin, but the company did not admit any wrongdoing.

The suspension orders against the CVS stores were stopped last week by another judge in the Washington federal courthouse, Amy Berman Jackson, for 30 days while she considers the case.

Published: Wed, Feb 15, 2012