Rite Aid pharmacy deemed central to multi-state drug probe

A Rite Aid Corp. store in Lexington is responsible for more than three-quarters of the prescription-drug violations in a multi-state federal investigation.

Thousands of the Lexington prescriptions came from a doctor in Georgia, who no longer practiced in Kentucky.

The pharmacy chain and subsidiaries in eight states agreed to pay $5 million in penalties for violating rules about controlled substances.

The investigation revealed 16,000 violations in Kentucky and seven other states.

About 12,600 of the violations came from one Lexington Rite Aid from 2001 to August 2005, according to a Department of Justice news release. The store moved from 393 Waller Avenue to 1335 South Broadway.

Patients from the Bluegrass Weight Loss Center at 366 Waller Avenue came in droves to the pharmacy to acquire phentermine, a mild stimulant and diet drug and one part of the once-popular fen-phen.

"You could spit to the Rite Aid pharmacy. It was right next door," said Bobby Otero, a diversions group supervisor with the Drug Enforcement Administration's Louisville district office. People came from Eastern Kentucky and Louisville to the center seeking prescriptions, he said.

Justice Department officials said the DEA investigation found Rite Aid filled prescriptions that it knew were not issued for a legitimate medical reason.

According to federal law, a pharmacist is responsible for determining whether a prescription is legitimate.

Federal authorities refused to identify the doctor because the investigation remains open, but a doctor who operated the Bluegrass Weight Loss Center surrendered his license in 2005 after being accused of improperly prescribing phentermine, according to state records.

Dr. Efrim C. Moore moved to Georgia in 2000, but continued to operate the diet clinic on Waller Avenue where assistants called in prescriptions for phentermine to the Rite Aid, according to a disciplinary record at the state licensure board.

Chris Johnson, a state investigator, told the board in August 2004 he had gotten a complaint that Moore was inappropriately prescribing diet medication.

The investigation showed that Moore often didn't see patients who got prescriptions. He made prescribing decisions from Georgia based on patients' files and what employees at the clinic told him, according to the investigator.

Johnson talked to pharmacists at the Rite Aid, who said Moore's patients got a discount because he sent so many of them in for diet medication, according to the licensure board's findings.

Moore denied he committed any violation, but agreed the board could conclude he did. He agreed to give up his Kentucky license in lieu of having it revoked. He also agreed to take a course on prescribing and pay $10,000 to Georgia authorities, according to the Kentucky board's order.

A call to the answering service for Moore's pain clinic in Canton, Ga., was not returned.

Moore's attorney, Thomas Miller, was not available for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

Authorities said several Rite Aid employees also knew about the arrangement.

The fact that so many prescriptions came from one office and that the Rite Aid store checked with the corporation about obtaining more phentermine were red flags that should have been heeded, said Robin Gwinn, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

A Rite Aid spokeswoman said she did not know specifically whether anyone had been disciplined or fired from the Lexington store. The company cooperated fully with law enforcement officials once it learned of the investigation in 2004 and has since taken steps to retrain pharmacy employees, said Sheryl Slavinsky, Rite Aid's director of public relations.

U.S. Attorney James Zerhusen's office said the doctor in the Rite Aid case is barred from practicing in Kentucky. In November, however, the Kentucky licensure board approved Moore's request to reinstate his license here, albeit under two years' probation.

As part of the settlement, Rite Aid also has agreed to a new compliance plan with the DEA for controlled substances, according to the Justice Department.

As of December, the Pennsylvania-based company operated 4,915 drugstores with 118 stores in Kentucky.

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