By Toni Clarke and Anna Yukhananov
Feb 29 (Reuters) - A federal judge allowed the Drug Enforcement Administration to suspend Cardinal Health Inc’s license to distribute potentially addictive drugs from its facility in Lakeland, Florida.
The court ruling is part of an ongoing battle between Cardinal and the DEA over how best to fight prescription drug abuse, and is likely to crimp Cardinal’s business for the next 12 months.
Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had previously given Cardinal a temporary restraining order to block the DEA suspension of the Lakeland facility, which serves about 2,700 customers, while it pleads its case to a judge within the DEA.
Walton said on Wednesday that after getting more information from the DEA, he agreed with the decision to suspend Cardinal’s license.
“I think DEA is correct that companies have an obligation to police themselves... and to be proactive in assessing whether diversion (of controlled substances) is taking place,” Walton said during a hearing in court.
“Cardinal, if it were being proactive, should have found a problem with those pharmacies, and should have taken some action earlier.”
The case comes as prescription drug abuse has surged in the United States, eclipsing the abuse of most illicit drugs, including heroin and cocaine.
Distributors such as Cardinal argue they are unfairly targeted because it is easier for the DEA to attack a distributor than the thousands of doctors who write the prescriptions.
For its part, the DEA argues distributors have an obligation to ensure none of the controlled drugs that go out their doors land in the wrong hands.
Whether Cardinal ultimately is allowed to keep its license will be determined at an administrative hearing scheduled to begin on April 3rd. That process could take as long as a year to play out as both sides present their cases. The DEA judge will then make a recommendation to the DEA’s administrator, Michele Leonhart, who will make a ruling.
The case is Cardinal Health Inc. V. Holder, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 12-185.