On November 1, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that WeCare Pharmacy, LLC, in Tampa Bay, Florida, would permanently close and some of its employees would be permanently banned from owning, managing, or operating a pharmacy.
WeCare Pharmacy, its pharmacist-owner Qingping Zhang, and its pharmacy technician Li Yang, spouse of Ms. Zhang and owner of L&Y Holding LLC that owned the pharmacy building (collectively, “WeCare”) allegedly violated the Controlled Substance Act for several years. In a January 2021 federal complaint, the government alleged that WeCare overlooked red flags and indicators of drug diversion and drug-seeking behavior. For example, the government alleged that some customers traveled over 100 miles to have prescriptions filled at WeCare. The government also alleged that WeCare improperly dispensed opioids in violation of the Controlled Substance Act.
The complaint noted that WeCare had several distinguishing factors when compared to other pharmacies. WeCare allegedly purchased thousands of dosages of controlled substances in quantities far exceeding the state and local averages. For example, reports indicate that WeCare purchased nearly 30 times more hydromorphone than the average Florida pharmacy. The government also noted that the pharmacy sold few narcotics that are commonly prescribed, like hydrocodone, and more than a third of the prescriptions filled for controlled substances between 2016 and 2020 were from a single provider. In January 2021, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven issued a temporary restraining order to stop the pharmacy from dispensing controlled substances.
On October 29, 2021, Judge Scriven approved a Stipulated Consent Judgment and Permanent Injunction. Under the consent judgment, WeCare Pharmacy, LLC must surrender its DEA certificate of registration and is prohibited from applying for or seeking renewal of a DEA registration. WeCare must also cease business operations. Similarly, Ms. Zhang and Mr. Yang agreed to never apply for or seek renewal of a controlled-substances registration from DEA, individually or on behalf of any corporate entity. Ms. Zhang, the trained pharmacist, is prohibited from owning, operating, managing, or having an equity interest in any property where controlled substances are administered or dispensed. Ms. Zhang is also banned from serving as a manager, owner, operator, or pharmacist-in-charge of any entity that administers or dispenses controlled substances.
As various government agencies continue enforcement actions to curtail the opioid crisis, the government announcement is a reminder that pharmacists and pharmacies, like prescribers, can be liable for improper actions related to controlled substances. CG attorneys have discussed such actions in the past. The government’s position is clear, as noted by acting U.S. Attorney Karin Hoppmann for the Middle District of Florida: “[f]ailure to comply with professional standards and protocols while dispensing controlled substances places the public at risk of harm and is a violation of the law.”
The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent clients of all types and sizes in connection with criminal and civil government investigations. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.