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Cardinal facility suspended under DEA settlement

(Reuters) – Drug wholesaler Cardinal Health Inc will suspend shipments of controlled substances from a Florida warehouse for two years under a settlement of federal litigation stemming from a major crackdown on prescription painkiller abuse.

Under the agreement with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Cardinal said on Tuesday that it would also work to improve security procedures at the Lakeland, Florida, distribution center to ensure that potentially addictive painkillers known as opioids, including oxycodone, wind up in the right hands.

The facility will remain open, and other operations will continue, Cardinal said.

The DEA suspended Cardinal’s Florida license on Feb. 3 because of concerns that the company was not adequately monitoring its customers for inappropriate dispensing of prescription drugs. Cardinal had sought to block the action.

Cardinal spokeswoman Debbie Mitchell said the agreement provided “certainty and resolution” and would enable the company, one of the largest U.S. wholesalers of pharmaceuticals, to avoid a protracted dispute with federal officials.

The DEA had no immediate comment.

The federal crackdown on illicit painkiller sales has also led to litigation against two CVS Caremark Corp pharmacies in Sanford, Florida.

An estimated 7 million Americans abuse pharmaceutical drugs. Prescription drugs account for about 75% of all drug-related U.S. overdose deaths, surpassing heroin and cocaine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Three of every four deaths from pills involve opioid pain relievers.

The DEA has sought to make drug wholesalers play a bigger role in fighting the problem of prescription drug abuse, which has surged in the United States over the past decade.

But distributors such as Cardinal have said they are unfairly targeted because it is easier for the DEA to attack a distributor than the thousands of doctors who write the prescriptions.

Cardinal’s Jackson, Mississippi, distribution center will serve the 2,500 pharmacy customers in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina that the Lakeland facility had serviced.

JPMorgan analysts said that despite the case, Cardinal had continued to ship controlled substances from Jackson, with little disruption for customers.