WILMINGTON — Wilmington-based Seashore Drugs Inc., its former owner John Waggett, and its pharmacist-in-charge Billy W. King II will pay $1,050,000 in civil penalties for allegedly dispensing opioid prescriptions egregiously for several years.
This week a federal court entered into a consent order with the pharmacy, its former owner, its pharmacist, and federal prosecutors to settle a complaint filed by federal prosecutors in October.
As a result of the consent order, Waggett is permanently prohibited from dispensing controlled substances. King cannot fill prescriptions for most opioids for 180 days and will be monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration for three years. Both King and Waggett are banned from serving as manager, owner, operator, or pharmacist-in-charge of any entity that handles controlled substances.
Defendants did not admit to any wrongdoing by agreeing to the consent order.
In 2017, Wilmington topped a national list, ranking as having the highest opioid abuse rate in the U.S., with 11.6% of the city’s residents abusing controlled substances.
Between 2006 and 2014, Seashore Drugs in Wilmington distributed 7.4 million pills — the highest in the Cape Fear region, behind only Seashore Drugs in Brunswick County, which distributed 6.7 million pills, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Federal prosecutors alleged Seashore Drugs violated the Controlled Substances Act by repeatedly filling prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances, ignoring multiple red flags for years.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the pharmacy dolled out an alarming amount of painkillers, including oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone. It also dispensed a lot of “potentiator drugs,” including Soma and Xanax, which are known to heighten the euphoric effects of opioids.
“These pharmacists abandoned their code of ethics,” Robert J. Murphy, special agent in charge of the DEA, said in a press release.
The pharmacy filled combinations of controlled substances “highly unlikely to serve a legitimate medical purpose,” including cocktails written by a physician who was ultimately suspended by the N.C. Medical Board.
For years the pharmacy filled prescriptions of high doses of opioids written by an out-of-state precriber located hundreds of miles from Wilmington. This includes prescriptions written for members of the same family.
The pharmacy also filled prescriptions early, which eventually led to excess doses.
Seashore Drugs developed a reputation for filling prescriptions that other pharmacies refused, according to the complaint. King, its pharmacist-in-charge, filled prescriptions that even his own co-pharmacsists wouldn’t fill..
Staff at Seashore Drugs saw customers exchanging recently dispensed drugs on a bench outside the pharmacy after receiving them. When they brought this up to King, prosecutors alleged he took no action.
Within days of receiving pills dispensed by Seashore Drugs, multiple customers died from prescription drug overdoses, according to the complaint.
“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,” Robert J. Higdon, Jr., U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said in a press release.
“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,” Higdon said.
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