Monday, April 23, 2018
Business

Drugstores now the focus of painkiller crisis, investigations

The prescription pain pill crackdown in Florida by federal agents is migrating quickly from pill mills to mainstream drugstore chains. Witness last week's search of six Walgreens stores — including in Port Richey and Hudson — and its distribution center in Jupiter.

Small wonder. Red flags soared quickly at Walgreens, the country's largest drugstore chain.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says that in 2009 no Walgreens retail pharmacies were listed among the DEA's top 100 Florida purchasers of oxycodone — a key ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan.

By 2011, 38 Walgreens made the list. By February, the total reached 53 of the top 100. So says a warrant filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

In Fort Myers, the DEA says one Walgreens pharmacy sold more than 2.1 million oxycodone pills in 2011. That's more than 22 times the oxycodone sales at the same pharmacy two years earlier.

Big jumps in the sales of such pills, purchased with cash rather than paid for by insurance, is a big tipoff that drugs are being diverted to dealers and addicts.

Walgreens says it is cooperating with DEA. It's curious the company's in-house monitoring of drug shipments from its own distribution warehouses apparently did not catch the soaring rates of painkillers sent to some of its own chain stores.

Walgreens is not the first retailer snagged in this mess. The DEA recently moved to suspend Cardinal Health's license to distribute controlled substances from its facility in Lakeland. And it sought to halt two CVS Caremark pharmacies in Florida from selling similar drugs.

Both companies are fighting the orders in court.

An Associated Press analysis shows sales of oxycodone and hydrocodone, an ingredient in Vicodin, have exploded in new parts of the country. Experts worry the push to relieve patients' suffering is spawning an addiction epidemic.

In 2000, the AP analysis found that oxycodone sales in Florida were centered around West Palm Beach. By 2010, oxycodone was flowing to nearly every part of the state.

Georgia registered a sharp uptick in sales. Robberies that target pharmacy painkillers have also increased.

Experts still point to such Appalachian states as Kentucky as ground zero for painkiller abuse, a geographic reason for the nicknames "pillbilly" and "hillbilly heroin" to describe painkiller addicts.

Deaths from narcotic painkillers now exceed those of heroin and cocaine combined. Prescription pills trump auto accidents as the nation's No. 1 cause of accidental death.

What costs $1 per prescription pain pill in Florida can go for $10 to street dealers and as much as $40 to the addict.

Nationwide, according to the AP analysis, pharmacies dispensed the equivalent of 69 tons of pure oxycodone and 42 tons of pure hydrocodone in 2010. That's enough to give 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins to every person in the United States.

The average pharmacy in the U.S. distributes 74,000 oxycodone pills annually, the DEA says. In Florida, it's more than 112,000.

Living in Florida can be tough, but it's not that painful.

Information from Times wires was used in this column. Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa marks the start of construction Tuesday on its first building, the posh JW Marriott hotel, but there’s a lot more to come.And soon.Within a year, developers said Monday, construction should be underway on 10 — 10! — of Wate...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Sears in Clearwater’s Countryside Mall to close in mid-July

Sears in Clearwater’s Countryside Mall to close in mid-July

CLEARWATER — The Westfield Countryside Mall Sears will close in mid-July as part of Sears Holdings’ latest store cuts, bringing the number of shuttering Kmarts and Sears to nearly 200.The store’s liquidation sale will begin on Friday, according to Se...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa draws praise, criticism at penalty hearing

Foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa draws praise, criticism at penalty hearing

CLEARWATER — Homeowners from as far away as Texas and North Carolina crowded a Pinellas County courtroom Monday in support of embattled foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa. Facing possible disbarment for professional misconduct, Stopa also drew s...
Published: 04/23/18
Tampa workers accuse General Dynamics unit of underpaying

Tampa workers accuse General Dynamics unit of underpaying

TAMPA — The Tampa call center of a federal contractor is being accused of underpaying its employees. Workers for General Dynamics Information Technology filed wage theft complaints with the Department of Labor Monday, calling for an investigation int...
Published: 04/23/18
With lights from Toys R Us dimmed, sales plunge at Hasbro

With lights from Toys R Us dimmed, sales plunge at Hasbro

Associated PressNEW YORK — With its sales falling due to the liquidation of Toys R Us, Hasbro is looking for new places to sell Monopoly, My Little Pony and its other toys. Hasbro said Monday it will rely more on online sales, although it has also be...
Published: 04/23/18
Sears’ biggest shareholder offers to buy Kenmore brand

Sears’ biggest shareholder offers to buy Kenmore brand

Associated PressNEW YORK — Sears’ biggest shareholder appears to be pushing for a breakup of the 125-year-old company that has survived two world wars and the Great Depression. Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert — whose hedge fund has forwarded millions...
Published: 04/23/18
Lucky’s Market hosting job fairs in St. Petersburg ahead of June opening

Lucky’s Market hosting job fairs in St. Petersburg ahead of June opening

ST. PETERSBURG — Job fairs to fill more than 100 jobs open at Tampa Bay’s first Lucky’s Market start this week, the organic grocer announced on Monday. The grocery store, located at 6765 22nd Ave. N, is hosting hiring fairs Monday through Friday unti...
Published: 04/23/18
Swimmer Michael Phelps to headline Crystal Lagoon grand opening Saturday

Swimmer Michael Phelps to headline Crystal Lagoon grand opening Saturday

WESLEY CHAPEL — Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps will splash down Saturday at the Crystal Lagoon in Wesley Chapel’s Epperson development.Phelps, a global ambassador for Crystal Lagoons, will appear at the grand opening of the first Crystal Lagoon...
Published: 04/23/18
Big visitor calls at Port Tampa Bay

Big visitor calls at Port Tampa Bay

TAMPA — The 750-foot-long Ireland, one of the biggest cargo vessels ever to call at Port Tampa Bay, arrived Sunday.The Ireland is on its inaugural voyage, having left a shipyard in China for a stop in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula to pick up 64,865 shor...
Published: 04/23/18
Tampa Bay gas prices rocket 17 cents over a week

Tampa Bay gas prices rocket 17 cents over a week

Floridians are paying plenty at the pump for a combination of spring gas prices and high oil prices this week. Gas jumped 11 cents per gallon over the week in Florida, averaging $2.74 per gallon Monday, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. That’s t...
Published: 04/23/18