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2 Toledo pharmacists temporarily barred from dispensing opioids, accused of ignoring 'red flags'

The pharmacists are accused of dispensing prescription opioids while ignoring "obvious indications of drug diversion and drug-seeking behavior."
Credit: WTOL 11

TOLEDO, Ohio — A temporary restraining order, enjoining a Toledo pharmacy and two of its pharmacists from dispensing opioids and other controlled substances, has been issued by a federal court in the state, the Department of Justice announced Friday.

According to a civil complaint filed Jan. 6, Shaffer Pharmacy, its owner Thomas Tadsen and pharmacist Wilson Bunton, are accused of repeatedly dispensing opioids and other controlled substances in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. 

The complaint alleges that over a period of several years, the pharmacists dispensed highly addictive and highly abused prescription opioids while ignoring “red flags” — described as "obvious indications of drug diversion and drug-seeking behavior."

U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary granted the government’s request for a temporary restraining order, which was filed along with the complaint.

The complaint claims that both Tadsen and Bunton failed to take the steps required to resolve these "red flags" and ensure the legitimacy of prescriptions before filling them. 

“Federal law requires pharmacists to ensure that the controlled substance prescriptions they fill are medically legitimate,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jennifer B. Dickey of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with DEA and our law enforcement partners to combat the opioid crisis by holding accountable pharmacies that abandon their obligations.”

According to court documents, the prescriptions dispensed by Tadsen and Bunton often involved highly abused opioid painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, buprenorphine, and fentanyl, often in dangerous combination with other prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines (i.e., sedatives indicated for the treatment of anxiety, such as Xanax), and muscle relaxants (e.g., carisoprodol, also known by its brand name, Soma). 

“The illegal prescribing or dispensing of narcotics by medical personnel only serves to further worsen the opioid epidemic in northern Ohio and increase the number of overdose deaths in our community,” Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Brennan for the Northern District of Ohio said. “Allegations of prescription misuse continue to be a priority for this office, and offenders should expect significant consequences.”

The complaint seeks civil penalties as well as a permanent injunction against the defendants.  

“Dispensing controlled substances is a privilege that requires abiding by the law,” said Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Keith Martin. “DEA is committed to ensuring that those who have pledged to follow our nation’s drug laws are living up to that responsibility.”

“We continue to face an uphill battle against drug abuse and addiction, and it is unthinkable that a licensed provider would contribute to this growing epidemic,” said Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith of the FBI, Cleveland Division. “Restraining the ability of these defendants to continue filling prescriptions without medical necessity is a significant step. The FBI will continue efforts to identify and hold accountable any medical professional that violates their legal obligation to do no harm when they engage in criminal misconduct."

The claims made in the complaint are merely allegations that the United States must prove if the case proceeds to trial.

The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patricia Fitzgerald and Angelita Cruz Bridges for the Northern District of Ohio, and Trial Attorneys Scott Dahlquist and Maryann McGuire of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch. This investigation is being conducted by the DEA, FBI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.