Long-term care pharmacy giant PharMerica dispensed controlled narcotics without valid prescriptions and charged Medicare, the federal government alleges in a False Claims Act lawsuit. The company “vigorously” disputes the claims.

The suit also charges the company with violating the Controlled Substances Act. The government suit stems from a 2009 whistleblower complaint filed by Jennifer Denk, a former employee of the company. PharMerica routinely filled nursing homes’ orders for oxycodone and other Schedule II narcotics, even if a proper prescription written by a doctor was missing, Denk alleged. According to the lawsuit, PharMerica’s actions violated the Controlled Substances Act by enabling nursing home staff to order narcotics, and pharmacists to dispense narcotics, before a physician decided whether those drugs were necessary for the resident. All the meds were also billed to Medicare, the suit states. Denk’s case was eventually consolidated with two other employee cases.

“The complaint that we are filing today reflects the abiding commitment of the Justice Department to the qui tam process, encouraging people with information about alleged fraud and abuse to report it in a timely and effective manner,” James L. Santelle, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, said in August. Federal authorities do not always join in the prosecution of these cases.

PharMerica “disputes the premises of the lawsuit” and will “vigorously defend itself,” the company stated. 

Denk’s attorney told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the total in damages to PharMerica could be around $100 million. Whistleblowers in these types of cases can receive a portion of monetary damages recovered by the government.