Pharmacy Law: Refusal to Honor Certain Controlled Substance Prescriptions

Joseph L. Fink III, BSPharm, JD
Published Online: Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Refusal to honor prescriptions for controlled substances written by a physician under investigation causes legal action.
Issue of the Case
When pharmacists at a national chain pharmacy in a southern state refused to honor prescriptions written for controlled substances by a local physician who was under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and at times told patients the physician was under investigation, may the prescriber maintain a lawsuit against the chain for intentional interference with business relationships and invasion of privacy?

Facts of the Case
An investigation was launched by both representatives of local law enforcement and the DEA into the activities of a solo practitioner whose practice was described as focusing on “occupational medicine” and “medical pain relief for the dedicated worker.” That investigation never resulted in criminal charges against her or any disciplinary proceedings by licensure authorities.

The physician filed a lawsuit against the local police department and the investigator from the DEA along with other DEA officials. Her complaint in those proceedings was that the law enforcement officials had contacted local pharmacies and discouraged them from honoring prescriptions she had written for her patients.

The case being addressed here was also filed by the physician in the local US district court against 4 national chains operating pharmacies in the area. In this case, she alleged 2 wrongdoings by the defendant pharmacies: first, that pharmacists at their pharmacies had refused to honor her prescriptions for controlled substances; and second, that when doing so, the pharmacists told patients that the basis for their refusal was that the prescriber was under investigation by the DEA. The legal basis for the claims was that the refusal to honor her requests for dispensing constituted intentional interference with her business relationships with her patients under the relevant applicable state law and that the comments made to patients invaded her privacy. A court filing alleged that pharmacists at the 4 defendant chains had refused to honor prescriptions this frequently: chain A, 16 times; chain B, 15 times; chain C, 14 times; and chain D, 1 time.

In response to the case filed against them, the pharmacies moved to have the lawsuit dismissed.

The Court’s Ruling
The judge at the US district court granted the motion made by the defendant pharmacies, dismissing the case.

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