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Federal judge bans Tampa pharmacy from prescribing opioids

Prosecutors say the pharmacists at WeCare Pharmacy ignored “red flags” in writing and filling thousands of narcotics prescriptions.
Check tampabay.com for the latest news and updates.
Check tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. [ Photo illustration by ASHLEY DYE and MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 31
Updated Jan. 31

TAMPA — A pharmacist, their spouse and their business partner are accused of writing and filling suspicious narcotics prescriptions in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to the Justice Department.

Now the federal judge overseeing the case has ordered the business, WeCare Pharmacy at 7830 Gunn Highway, to stop distributing opioids and other controlled substances.

Federal prosecutors named WeCare pharmacist and owner Qingping Zhang; spouse and pharmacy technician Li Yang; the unnamed business partner; and Yang’s company, L&Y Holdings LLC, which owns WeCare’s building. They are accused of dispensing “highly addictive and highly abused prescription opioids” including hydromorphone and oxycodone, according to federal prosecutors.

They said Zhang and Yang ignored “‘red flags’ — that is, obvious indications of drug diversion and drug-seeking behavior,” according to the Justice Department.

WeCare purchased hundreds of thousands of dosages of controlled narcotics between 2016 and 2020, greatly exceeding state and local averages, according to a federal civil complaint filed last week in the Middle District of Florida. In 2018, the pharmacy bought nearly 30 times more hydromorphone than the average Florida pharmacy, the complaint said, and more than five times more than the average pharmacy in Hillsborough County.

Meanwhile, the pharmacy was hardly selling other narcotics, the Justice Department said, and in 2020 sold no hydrocodone — which prosecutors said is the most commonly prescribed opioid in the country.

Of the 11,793 prescriptions the pharmacy fielded for controlled substances from 2016 to 2021, more than a third of them, or 4,333, were written by the same person, an unnamed “Prescriber 1,” who operates a “purported medical practice” from the same building as the pharmacy, according to the complaint. Prosecutors say Prescriber 1 is listed as a manager of L&Y Holdings.

Patients sometimes drove from more than 100 miles to have prescriptions written by Prescriber 1 and filled at WeCare, the complaint said, often at the maximum dosage and in the same quantity. Prosecutors called that “an unavoidably glaring red flag” that “any reasonable pharmacist would have identified.”

The complaint does not say that anyone in the case faces criminal charges.