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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ferry County Hospital District to pay $15,000 for improper opioid dispensing practices at Republic pharmacy

A bottle of Purdue Pharma OxyContin medication sits on a pharmacy shelf in Provo, Utah, in August 2016.  (George Frey/Bloomberg)

The Ferry County Hospital District will pay a $15,000 settlement for not following opioid dispensing regulations at its Republic Drug Store, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Washington announced Friday.

Pharmacists and employees did not always resolve “red flags” when filing opioid prescriptions between October 2017 and November 2021, according to the settlement. The Ferry County Hospital District purchased Republic Drug Store in January 2021.

Those red flags included instances of numerous patients taking dangerous and medically inappropriate combinations of drugs such as the “holy trinity”: an opioid, benzodiazepine and a muscle relaxant taken together.

The pharmacy also filled high doses of opioids that exceeded recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescriptions by retired physicians or people with suspended licenses and prescriptions by naturopathic doctors who didn’t have the authority to prescribe controlled substances.

“Pharmacies, such as Republic Drug, play a critical role in keeping our communities safe and strong,” Vanessa Waldref, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, said in a statement. “Pharmacies serve a vital gatekeeper function in keeping our residents safe and healthy, preventing the diversion of dangerous drugs, and combating addiction. I’m grateful that Ferry County Hospital District accepted responsibility and has entered into a robust agreement with the Drug Enforcement Administration to ensure that it complies with its gatekeeper function and obligations going forward.”

The Ferry County Hospital District cooperated with the DEA to resolve the issues, including with quarterly physical inventory audits and increased employee training.

Jennifer Reed, chief executive officer at the hospital, said Monday she felt the DEA’s investigation was lacking and was frustrated that the pharmacy was not able to provide evidence of cleared red flags; however, they ultimately took the experience as a chance to do better.

“You can always do better,” Reed said. “We worked with them and we strengthened our policies.”

Reed noted that pharmacists and employees had tried to resolve red flags in the past, including under the previous owners. The hospital “worked really well” with the DEA to make its policies even stronger, she added.

“It’s a huge problem everywhere,” she said. “We do our best.”