McLaren to pay $7.7M to resolve alleged drug violations

Opioid drug overdose deaths are down in US, study finds, but COVID-19 could change that. (Victor Moussa, CNN)

DETROIT – McLaren Health Care Corp. has agreed to pay the federal government more than $7.7 million to resolve alleged violations of provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.

The civil settlement was announced Tuesday by the U.S. attorneys in Grand Rapids and Detroit.

It follows a years-long investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration that started after the agency learned an unregistered substance abuse treatment facility was improperly receiving controlled substances from a pharmacy in western Michigan.

The government also alleges that McLaren pharmacies in Port Huron and Yale dispensed Schedule II drugs without written prescriptions and despite red flags that the drugs were being diverted by a pharmacist-in-charge.

The DEA lists morphine, methadone, hydrocodone and fentanyl as examples of Schedule II substances.

“While our health systems provide critical services to patients, they carry broader public responsibilities as bulwarks against the drug diversion that contributes to the surging opioid crisis in the state of Michigan,” said Andrew Birge, U.S. Attorney for Michigan’s western district.

McLaren said a pharmacist at its Port Huron retail pharmacy was “diverting opioids for his own personal use” and has since been fired.

“A subsequent review included an exhaustive assessment of pharmacy protocols at other McLaren facilities — in some cases stretching over periods of up to 12 years,” the health care system said Tuesday in a statement.

McLaren also said the DEA identified “irregularities associated with recordkeeping, dispensing and distribution of controlled substances, particularly among retail pharmacies operating under ‘legacy’ pharmacy protocols that had been in place prior to McLaren’s acquisition of their operations.”

“From the moment the DEA’s first concern was brought to our attention we have worked diligently to strengthen protocols across our system,” said April Rudoni, interim compliance director and chair of McLaren’s Controlled Substance Oversight Committee.

McLaren said it exited the retail pharmacy business in 2018, adding that the move was unrelated to the federal investigation.

The health system has more than a dozen hospitals across Michigan. Its headquarters is in Grand Blanc, southeast of Flint.