In April 2019, the United States Attorney’s Office for the state of Rhode Island ruled that Consumer Value Store (CVS) had to pay $535,000 for filling fake Percocet prescriptions. Pharmacists at the popular chain of drug stores were charged for violating the Controlled Substances Act. The courts ruled that the pharmacists had reason to believe the prescriptions were inauthentic, but filled 39 Percocet prescriptions anyway.

Percocet is a controlled substance made from oxycodone — an opioid — and acetaminophen. Percocet is a highly addictive narcotic prescribed for pain. As a controlled substance, this drug is subject to high standards, which were violated by these CVS pharmacists.

Pharmacists and Their Role in the Opioid Epidemic

Many experts cite 2012 as the height of the opioid crisis. At this point, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that 1.8 million non-medical users of opioids were active in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that the prescribing rate for opioids in 2012 was 81.3 prescriptions per 100 people. There were very few standards and minimal enforcement in place for regulating these controlled substances. Pharmacists had virtually no deterrent for freely filling exorbitant numbers of opioids and other narcotics. These trends largely contributed to the opioid crisis.

Prescription regulation has been a recurring theme in the opioid epidemic. When the opioid crisis escalated in the early 2000s, medical providers noticed the increase in substance abuse and overdose deaths among unusual demographics of middle-class people. According to the World Health Organization, these trends in opioid dependency were the first sign of a problem with prescribing practices. 

State Regulation

Pharmacy regulation differs by state. Each state has made strides to provide better guidelines for how pharmacists dispense opioids, including education resources, standards for storage and record-keeping and partnerships with prescribers. For instance, the state of Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association has toolkits, online education courses, resources for providers and training opportunities for how to handle opioid dispensing issues.

The most common prescription opioids are:

Obtaining Percocet without a prescription at a pharmacy should be virtually impossible in most states. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are multiple other ways people abuse prescription drugs, such as:

  • Taking someone else’s prescribed medication
  • Taking a medication differently than its prescribed use
  • Buying prescription drugs from a drug dealer, the internet or another illicit source

Drugs that are classified as highly addictive are more subject to abuse. Drug addiction can be a crippling condition that leads people to make high-risk or unethical choices, such as stealing or purchasing illegal drugs. 

Stricter Laws and Regulations for Pharmacies

A Percocet prescription is usually issued to address severe pain, either after surgery or injury. Percocet prescription refill rules are outlined by the prescriber. The doctor who provided the prescription will indicate how many times it can be refilled. Pharmacy laws and regulations prohibit pharmacists from issuing medication outside of these stipulations. 

Pharmacists are also responsible for drug inventorying, which extends to the receival and approval of drugs. In the case of the CVS pharmacists, their charge was related to the fact that they had reason to believe the prescriptions for this drug were inauthentic. 

Considering the level of awareness and efforts to reduce opioid addiction in our country, dispensing addictive medications without a verifiable prescription was a decision that imperiled their licenses and careers, as well as the health and safety of the people they dispensed the drugs to.

The American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force reports a positive increase in physicians who make use of the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. A 56% increase between 2017 and 2018 was reported for medical providers who make use of electronic records and state medication monitoring services. 

It is evident that positive steps are being taken throughout each state community of pharmacists to educate and empower medical professionals to best address issues of opioid addiction.