Safeway to pay $3 million fine after drug thefts in Wash. spark investigation

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SEATTLE - The Safeway chain has agreed to pay a $3 million penalty after a federal investigation found the company had failed to report the theft of thousands of opioid narcotic pills in Washington state and elsewhere in a timely manner.

U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes says the investigation began in 2014 when the Drug Enforcement Administration learned about irregularities at the Safeway pharmacy in North Bend, Wash., and another in Wasilla, Alaska.

The investigation showed that Safeway did not report the theft of tens of thousands of narcotic hydrocodone pills at the two pharmacies until months after the company discovered the pills were pilfered by employees.

Further investigation revealed a widespread practice of Safeway pharmacies failing to report missing or stolen controlled substances in a timely manner, Hayes said.

By law, pharmacies and other drug providers are required to notify the DEA of the theft or significant loss of any controlled substance within one business day of the discovery of the theft or loss.

Following the investigation, Safeway accepted responsibility for failure to report the thefts in a timely fashion and agreed to pay a $3 million penalty. The chain also agreed to implement a compliance agreement reached with the DEA to ensure such notification lapses do not happen again.

Hayes said the agreement is an important step in battling drug addiction.

“As our community struggles with an epidemic of opioid abuse, we call on all participants in drug distribution to carefully monitor their practices to stem the flow of narcotics to those who should not have them,” she said.

This is the third U.S. Justice Department settlement in the past year involving lax pharmacy controls and inconsistent adherence to DEA requirements, Hayes said.

In January 2017, the Justice Department reached an $11.75 million settlement with Costco and in July 2016 DOJ reached a settlement with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance over pharmacy control failures.

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