Second federal report critical of DEA actions with pharmacies

By Matt Grant 

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. —A recent report is blaming the DEA for many people being denied their legitimate prescriptions at Florida pharmacies. The Florida Board of Pharmacy is preparing to address the problem.

It's the second time this year that a Government Accountability Office report has been critical of the way the DEA works with pharmacies and wholesalers.

WESH 2 News has been investigating the issue for months.

"In the richest country in the world, that we have to ration medication to patients who really need it, is bizarre to me," said Bill Napier, a Jacksonville pharmacist.

The new report cites critical lack of access to pain medication, by pharmacists and patients, as a result of poor communication and unclear DEA rules.

The report said, "In the absence of clear guidance from the DEA some pharmacies may be inappropriately delaying or denying filling prescriptions for patients with legitimate medical needs."

And many distributors, as a result, are "setting thresholds (or quotas) on the amount of controlled substances that can be ordered."

"What I am really is a rationer of medication. If I could get more medicine from my wholesaler, I'd dispense more," said Napier.

The report found that quotas, along with more than $100 million in fines, handed down by the DEA to distributors in recent years, has impacted how pharmacies operate.

One unnamed pharmacy chain told the GAO they are afraid of being the target of DEA enforcement citations even if they fill a prescription in good faith and that fear has caused pharmacists to try to protect their DEA registration at the expense of the patient.

The report found that 62 percent of pharmacies have had quotas placed on the amount of medicine they can order from wholesalers, and 35 percent of doctors say they've had their prescriptions denied or delayed.

The report recommends the DEA regularly communicate with distributors, pharmacists and doctors, and solicit input from them to make rules more clear.

The DEA acknowledged that communication is vital, but in a letter to the GAO, said,  "DEA cannot control otherwise legitimate business decisions" between distributors, pharmacists and patients.

The Florida Board of Pharmacy's Controlled Substances Standards Committee is the group tasked with fixing the problem. The organization will hold its second meeting on Aug. 10 in Deerfield Beach. That meeting is open to the public.

By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Dormont woman waived indictment today in federal court and admitted that she warned the targets of an ongoing pill mill drug investigation that the feds were after them.

Leigh Fiumara, 38, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, a conviction likely to result in a probation sentence but that now makes her a felon.

Fiumara, an oxycodone user and mother of three, was approached by U.S. DEA agents last summer who asked for her help in investigating a large-scale prescription drug ring involving doctors, dealers and users in several states.

She then told the targets of the investigation that DEA was looking at them and warned other customers of those targets to steer clear of them.

Prosecutors said her actions impeded the investigation, although to what extent isn't known. The U.S. attorney 's office will not comment on pending cases.

Fiumara's lawyer, Patrick Nightingale, said his client had already secured him as her lawyer after DEA approached her when she informed the targets of the case about the investigation. He said he will file motions later in the hopes that she will receive a sentence of probation rather than jail U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti set sentencing for November.

Fiumara remains free until then.


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