The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced Thursday that the former owner and pharmacist-in-charge of Seashore Drugs Inc. have agreed to $1.05 million in civil penalties as part of a consent agreement with the government stemming from practices that prosecutors allege helped turn the local pharmacy into a magnet for drug abusers.
While not admitting the allegations, former Seashore Drugs Inc. owner John D. Waggett and former pharmacist-in-charge Billy W. King II agreed to resolve charges filed by the government that accused the pair of ignoring multiple “red flags” and failing to ensure the legitimacy of prescriptions brought to the pharmacy before filling them.
Seashore Discount Drugs, 2059 Carolina Beach Road, is now under new management and remains open.
Under the consent agreement, Waggett, who was owner and president as well as a pharmacist, is permanently prohibited from dispensing opioids or other controlled substances. King is prohibited from dispensing Schedule II controlled substances, including most opioids, for 180 days and will then be subject to monitoring by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for three years.
Both Waggett and King are also permanently barred from serving as a manager, owner, operator or pharmacist-in-charge of any enterprise that administers, dispenses or distributes controlled substances, including a pharmacy, officials said.
A review of the government’s consent judgment indicated that the $1 million-plus payback by Waggett and King is considered to be a debt owed the government and not mandatory restitution to aid any victimized individuals, some of whom died from overdoses after having prescriptions filled at Seashore, prosecutors allege.
“Opioid addiction and abuse have devastated communities across our nation, and eastern North Carolina is no exception,” Robert J. Higdon Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina said in a news release. “As the last line of defense between these dangerously addictive substances and our communities, pharmacists and pharmacies play a critical role in stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic. Seashore, Waggett, and King ignored that responsibility and, instead, made matters worse. Today’s order demonstrates our office’s continued, unwavering commitment to hold responsible all who had a role to play in this crisis – from distributors, to prescribers, to the pharmacies who ultimately put the pills in patients’ hands.”
The consent judgment announced Thursday resolves a complaint that Seashore Drugs Inc., Waggett and King repeatedly ignored “red flags” of drug-seeking behavior when filling prescriptions for controlled substances often involving highly addictive and highly abused painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, along with other “potentiator” drugs that heighten the euphoric effects of opioids.
Prosecutors alleged that Waggett and King provided combinations of controlled substances known as “cocktails” favored by drug abusers, including some written by a physician whose prescribing privileges were ultimately suspended, and that high-dose prescriptions were written by a prescriber located in another state for members of the same family. Further, prosecutors said, Seashore staff reported to King that individuals were exchanging recently dispensed drugs on the bench outside the pharmacy, but King took no action.
Thursday’s announcement comes at a time when health experts are seeing a spike in drug abuse during the coronavirus pandemic due to joblessness, lack of social contact and anxiety.
“The Department of Justice continues to use all tools at its disposal to combat the opioid crisis,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark. “Reports indicate that COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the opioid crisis’s underlying causes. As a result, the Civil Division, DEA, and other law enforcement partners have redoubled efforts to ensure that pharmacies that fail to uphold their obligation to dispense controlled substances lawfully will be held accountable.”
Nirav Patel, co-owner of the current Seashore Discount Drugs, said that he and his staff remain ready to serve legitimate customers during the current pandemic and beyond.
Patel said he worked with the DEA to achieve an orderly transfer of the business and closed the purchase with the agency’s approval on Oct. 13.
While Patel said he never had any association with Waggett or King, there has been some confusion in the community over who he is and what he is doing.
“The doctors don’t want to work with us, the patients think we are crooks and we are defending ourselves for something we haven’t created,” Patel said. “We had an opportunity to serve the community and do business. We want to serve every legitimate prescription that is being written for a legitimate medical purpose.”