SAN DIEGO—District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced her office’s Consumer Protection Unit, working with the Riverside and Alameda District Attorneys’ Offices and the State Board of Pharmacy, has obtained a $498,250 settlement in a consumer protection lawsuit brought against the owners of the Rite Aid pharmacy chain in California.
The civil complaint, filed in San Diego Superior Court under California’s unfair competition laws, alleges that Rite Aid pharmacists throughout the state frequently failed to comply fully with the Board’s rules requiring personal pharmacist consultations when prescription drug customers receive new prescriptions or new dosages of existing prescriptions.
“These rules are in place to protect prescription drug customers and make sure they understand how to use them properly,” said DA Dumanis. “Our Consumer Protection Unit will continue working with other DA Offices and state agencies to hold companies like Rite Aid accountable and safeguard the health of individuals who interact with their pharmacies.”
Defendant Thrifty Payless, Inc., a California corporation, is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid Corporation, a Delaware corporation. Thrifty Payless, Inc., owns and operates the 582 California Rite Aid-branded pharmacies on behalf of the Rite Aid Corporation.
In 2011, the California State Board of Pharmacy brought to the three District Attorneys’ Offices the problem of health risks to California pharmacy customers when pharmacists fail to properly provide needed personal consultation to prescription drug customers. Uninformed or improper use of prescription drugs harms an estimated 150,000 Californians each year and contributes to an estimated $1.7 billion in economic losses throughout the state.
Regulations enforced by the California State Board of Pharmacy require that a pharmacist must provide personal consultation to a patient receiving a prescription drug not previously dispensed to that patient, or a prescription drug in a different dosage, form, or strength, or on the patient’s request.
Working with the Board of Pharmacy, the three District Attorneys’ Offices conducted an undercover investigation of the consultation practices of a number of the major pharmacy chains in California. The present enforcement action is the second of several such actions anticipated as a result of that investigation, following the similar December 2013 settlement involving California’s CVS pharmacies.
With regard to the Rite Aid chain, the Board provided the District Attorneys with copies of ten citations issued to Rite Aid by the Board of Pharmacy between March of 2008 and August of 2012 showing ongoing violations of the pharmacist consultation requirement. Subsequently, in 28 undercover purchases at Rite Aid stores conducted by the District Attorneys in late 2011 and 2012 in San Diego, Riverside, and Alameda counties, district attorney investigators found a significant pattern of failures to provide the required consultations and/or failures to offer patient consultations by proper personnel.
Under the terms of the judgment, which was entered without admission of liability, Rite Aid is permanently enjoined to comply properly with California’s standards for patient consultations, and must fully implement an internal compliance program. In the stipulated final judgment, the Rite Aid entities also agreed to pay agency investigative costs of $78,250 and civil penalties totaling $420,000 (San Diego DA will receive one-third, or $140,000, of those civil penalties and $18,500 of the costs.) Rite Aid and its counsel worked cooperatively with the prosecutors to promptly resolve the matter and to implement the new compliance procedures.