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Lakewood pharmacy 'resolves allegations' of unlawfully filling opioid prescriptions

A Lakewood pharmacy and its pharmacist owner, accused by federal investigators of illegally filling prescriptions with "exceptionally high opioid dosages and dangerous drug combinations" for more than six years and contributing to the opioid epidemic, recently avoided criminal prosecution. 

In an agreement referred to as a resolution of the allegations, the pharmacist agreed to pay a $3.5 million civil penalty and to never again hold a pharmaceutical license.

Federal prosecutors, in return, agreed to close their investigation.

"People's Pharmacy perpetuated the opioid crisis by ignoring red flags and knowingly and unlawfully dispensing Oxycodone that led to addiction and in some cases death," stated Drug Enforcement Administration Rocky Mountain Division Acting Special Agent in Charge David Olesky in a press release. "Pharmacists have a corresponding responsibility to ensure the legitimacy of the prescriptions they fill."

Prosecutors with the United States Attorney's Office, District of Colorado, alleged People's Pharmacy, through its owner and pharmacist-in-charge, Mahnaz Abharian, ignored "red flags" and continued to fill prescriptions which were not for legitimate medical purposes.

The business was located at 255 Union Boulevard. It closed in July of 2020. By agreeing to the resolution of allegations, the pharmacy and Abharian do not admit to any liability, according to the press release.

People's Pharmacy was likely the business cited in the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation of AmerisourceBergen Corporation and two of the company's subsidiaries. Together, they formed the country's largest drug distributorship. In December 2022, the DOJ announced the filing of a nationwide lawsuit against the conglomerate for violating federal drug law and contributing to the opioid crisis. 

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In at least hundreds of thousands of instances, the conglomerate "flagrantly" ignored its obligation to report suspicious prescription activities, federal investigators allege. In fact, the evidence suggested the companies may have deliberated ignored the results of their monitoring in an effort to divert illicit drugs to illegal markets. 

The DOJ held up five pharmacies as examples - two in New Jersey, one in West Virginia, one in Florida, and the last in Colorado. 

"A Colorado pharmacy that AmerisourceBergen knew was its largest purchaser of oxycodone 30mg tablets in all of Colorado," states the complaint in the case. "The government further alleges that for this Colorado pharmacy, AmerisourceBergen specifically identified eleven patients as potential 'drug addicts' whose prescriptions likely were illegitimate. Two of those patients subsequently died of overdoses."

That Colorado pharmacy was located in Lakewood, according to the complaint. 

"When drug distributors like AmerisourceBergen fail to alert the DEA of suspicious orders of prescription drugs by pharmacies, they shirk a key obligation in dealing with addictive drugs that can end lives," said U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan for the District of Colorado in the DOJ's December press release. "This complaint makes clear that the Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable corporations that disregard the public's safety for their own profit."

 When CBS News Colorado asked whether the People's Pharmacy was in fact the unnamed Colorado pharmacy in the AmerisourceBergen investigation, a spokesperson for the Denver-based U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.  

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