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San Joaquin County pharmacy shut down, ordered to pay $1M in civil penalties for illegally dispensing opioids

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A San Joaquin County pharmacy and its pharmacist/owner Lawrence Howen have been ordered to pay $1 million in civil penalties for allegedly filling prescriptions for controlled substances even though they knew the prescriptions didn't fill a legitimate medical purpose, according to authorities.

In a statement Tuesday from the US Attorney's Office, Nor-Cal Pharmacies Inc., doing business as Lockeford Drug, allegedly dispensed 116,330 pills, including more than 100,000 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills via prescriptions from Joe Anthony Bernal, a defendant charged in a separate criminal case.

As part of the settlement, the defendants will be barred from dispensing controlled substances, owning a company that dispenses controlled substances, or employing another person that dispenses controlled substances. The injunction also states that the defendants were aware of or deliberately ignored that they were dispensing substances that weren't for a legitimate medical purpose and didn't care whether or not they were causing harm. 

Bernal has been charged with conspiring with others to illegally acquire and distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone. 

"As a pharmacy that fills prescriptions for opioids and other dangerous drugs, the defendants had an obligation to fill only legitimate prescriptions," U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said . "The defendants failed to comply with that obligation, and thereby failed in their responsibility to prevent the opioids from being diverted into illicit channels. This case demonstrates our firm commitment to enforcing federal laws involving prescription drugs."

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