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Rite-Aid record-keeping violations draw penalty

Federal officials recently approved a settlement with Rite Aid Corp. in which the drug chain and subsidiaries in eight states agreed to pay $5 million in civil penalties for alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

Officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) said they found a "pattern of violations" during an investigation of 53 Rite Aid locations.

DEA officials said some Rite Aid employees knowingly filled prescriptions for controlled substances when they knew those prescriptions were not issued for a legitimate medical reason.

Violations were found at Rite Aid pharmacies in California, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. More than half the pharmacies cited, 32, were in California.

As part of the settlement, Rite Aid agreed to improve its record-keeping in connection with cold medications, which are sometimes used to manufacture methamphetamine.

"We fully cooperated with the DEA and the U.S. Department of Justice since being notified of the situation in 2004," Rite Aid spokeswoman Cheryl Slavinsky told the Sacramento Bee. "We have strengthened our existing compliance program and retrained our pharmacy staffs on each of these issues."

Rite Aid has agreed to quarterly audits and a tracking system that links its pharmacies across the country, according to Sacramento DEA chief Gordon Taylor.

According to the DEA, criminals who manufacture methamphetines often hire people to go to pharmacies to buy the daily limit of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products at each one — a process known as smurfing. Taylor said most of the pseudoephedrine and ephedrine seized by the DEA during raids had been gained by criminals through smurfing.

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