Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has reached an $11 million settlement with an Andover mail-order pharmacy over allegations the company had a role in shipping thousands of illegitimate opioid painkiller prescriptions around the country.
The allegations involve Injured Workers Pharmacy (IWP) in Andover, which handles prescriptions for workers injured on the job who have filed workers' compensation claims.
Healey's complaint against IWP alleges the company facilitated the shipment of thousands of illegitimate prescriptions — mostly for opioid painkillers — and took steps to increase sales, such as paying law firms for patient referrals. The complaint also alleges that the company paid sales staff based on volume and dispensed drugs to many prescribers, who were ultimately charged with illegal prescribing.
Healey says between 2006 and 2012, IWP was the largest recipient of opioid pills in Massachusetts, receiving more than 34 million pills during that time.
"This was a pharmacy that was dispensing super high, outrageous volumes of opioids to workers injured on the job and were submitting workers' comp. claims," Healey said. "What was at issue was the company was pumping out all these pills — including opioids like fentanyl — with a shocking lack of regard for whether those prescriptions were actually legitimate."
IWP, the country's largest specialized pharmacy for injured workers, says it changed many of its practices after new leadership took over in 2017, and has since updated many of its policies and trainings. The company says any law-firm-specific marketing agreements were suspended in 2017. Currently, IWP says its 11 pharmacists and 24 pharmacy technicians use systems to flag signs of potential problems and drug misuse.
"As a result of full cooperation with the attorney general's investigation, we have carefully considered how we can further improve our already strong protocols and continue to show industry leadership in addressing the risks of diversion, misuse and abuse associated with controlled substances," IWP said in a statement. "This agreement emphasizes IWP's commitment to a comprehensive and best in class compliance program and to preventing the abuse and misuse of controlled substances; it also eliminates the cost and time associated with a lengthy legal case and allows IWP to focus on providing best in class service to its patients."
The settlement requires the pharmacy hire more people to monitor prescriptions and have an independent auditor review compliance for one year.