A federal judge has temporarily shuttered a pair of problem pharmacies on the Cumberland Plateau. The legal action is "a first of its kind action" by the Justice Department in a crackdown on prescription opioids.
The two pharmacies in Celina were already well-known to state regulators. Dale Hollow Pharmacy is one of the top dispensers of opioids per capita in the country, followed close behind by Xpress Pharmacy, which is just 100 yards away and owned by the same person, Thomas Weir.
Federal prosecutors, who announced the action Friday, say in court documents that on Saturdays, nearly 90 percent of the prescriptions were filled for opioids, with many patients driving long distances to pick them up. The Justice Department says recently, at least two people with multiple prescriptions filled at the pharmacies died of overdoses.
The pharmacies also did big business in buprenorphine, used to treat opioid addiction. But they sold an abnormally high amount of a special formulation that lacked the abuse-deterrent ingredient naloxone.
The pharmacists themselves had been in trouble for years, with two of them (Michael Griffith and Larry Larkin) losing their licenses previously for their own drug abuse. The pharmacist in charge, John Polston, has also served a state-imposed suspension.
Along with shutting down the pharmacies, federal authorities are also seeking monetary penalties for improper distribution of controlled substances and making false claims under Medicare. But authorities have not made public any criminal charges.
Clay County has been under scrutiny for years, with the Drug Enforcement Agency putting the community on notice last year. According to TennCare data, Clay County had the highest rate of controlled substance prescriptions in the state during 2018 with more than four per TennCare patient.