Washington, DC —July 15, 2022 — Tara Pharmacy, a specialty pharmacy located in Homewood, Alabama, that provides pharmacy services for long-term care facilities in Alabama and Georgia, has agreed to pay a total of $622,964 to resolve allegations originally brought in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by Phillips & Cohen LLP alleging the company dispensed Schedule II narcotics without valid prescriptions. The complaint, brought under the False Claims Act, alleges violations of the Controlled Substances Act and other federal and state laws.
The “qui tam” (whistleblower) case, which the US Department of Justice joined, alleged Tara Pharmacy dispensed Schedule II narcotics to nursing home residents in violation of federal law requiring written prescriptions with valid, original physician signatures and in violation of restrictions under the Controlled Substance Act for “emergency” dispensations.
“Ensuring that a physician has properly prescribed medication, especially narcotics and other controlled substances, for nursing home residents is vitally important to ensure resident safety. The safety of nursing home residents is a high priority for federal law enforcement, especially with the widespread misuse of opioids including among the elderly,” said Colette Matzzie, a whistleblower attorney and partner at Phillips & Cohen.
Two former employees of the Tara Pharmacy, Alex Sproule, a licensed pharmacist, and Nicholas Fuhrmann, a pharmacy technician, were the whistleblowers in the qui tam case. Phillips & Cohen filed the qui tam complaint in 2020 under seal in federal district court in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Our clients should be commended for their brave and conscientious actions to ensure resident safety by raising concerns that opioids were being prescribed and dispensed without valid, signed prescriptions. By coming forward, they assisted the government with identifying physicians who allowed prescriptions to be written without valid signatures,” said John Tremblay, a whistleblower attorney at Phillips & Cohen LLP.
Tara Pharmacy is a “closed-door” pharmacy, meaning it dispenses drugs only to residents of long-term care facilities operated by Tara Cares and does not supply retail pharmacy services. According to the complaint, Tara Cares facilities dispensed drugs to nursing home residents by copying physicians’ signatures and filling prescriptions without valid signatures. As a result, the complaint alleges that opioids and other controlled substances were dispensed without adequate supervision by an authorized prescriber. The settlement agreement identifies eight physicians who allegedly permitted prescriptions to be used in violation of the Controlled Substance Act.
“I came forward as a whistleblower after I became alarmed that we appeared to be presented with prescriptions without valid signatures that could lead to dispensing potentially addictive medications to nursing home residents without proper authorization,” said Alex Sproule, a whistleblower in the case and former pharmacist at Tara Pharmacy.
To be covered under federal health care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, prescribers and pharmacies must ensure compliance with the Controlled Substances Act. The complaint and settlement agreement allege that claims for dispensed drugs were submitted to Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs for reimbursement in violation of the False Claims Act.
“My concern was that reckless dispensing of narcotics at our long-term facilities would not be in the interests of elderly nursing home residents,” said Nicholas Fuhrmann, a whistleblower and former pharmacy technician at Tara Pharmacy.
DOJ investigated the whistleblowers’ complaints and joined some of the allegations, which are covered in the settlement agreement.
The settlement amount includes a recovery of $227,964 under the False Claims Act and $395,000 under the Controlled Substances Act. The whistleblowers will receive a 23% relators’ share in recognition of their substantial contributions to the recovery under the False Claims Act.
Phillips & Cohen commended Assistant United States Attorneys Don Long and Margaret Marshall and paralegal specialist Rebecca Klamert from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama, Trial Attorney Douglas Rosenthal from the Department of Justice, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Frauds Section, and Special Agent Dexter Young from the Drug Enforcement Administration for the settlement. Frohsin Barger of Birmingham, Alabama served as local counsel in the case.
The False Claims Act allows whistleblowers to sue individuals and entities that are defrauding the federal government and recover funds on the government’s behalf. The law offers whistleblowers protection against job retaliation and rewards based on the amount defendants pay to settle the false claims allegations. Learn more about qui tam cases.
The settlement agreement.
DOJ press release.
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