Drug Enforcement Administration officials say a recent $3 million settlement paid by the Safeway grocery chain, prompted by opioids missing from an Alaska pharmacy, highlights the need for a documented trail of the supply and distribution chain of all medications from pharmacies.


The fine settles allegations by the Department of Justice that Safeway did not report significant losses or theft of controlled substances in a timely fashion.


According to documents, a DEA investigator contacted Safeway after the chain reported more than 12,000 hydrocodone-acetaminophen tablets missing from the Carrs Safeway pharmacy in Wasilla in 2014. Interviews showed Safeway knew about the missing pills in 2013 and conducted an internal investigation of a worker for suspected theft, but that employee had subsequently quit.


“Any diversion outside of the closed system of distribution is alarming,” DEA spokeswoman Jodie Underwood said. “The untimely reporting of significant losses can thwart investigative efforts, and it is very likely then the substances will have been distributed and they will have been consumed.”


Underwood said delayed reporting of missing pills is a problem for both investigators and public health.


“We are in the middle of an opioid crisis and there’s a correlation between prescription opioids and heroin,” she said. “People are overdosing and dying. It is critical that all involved in the supply chain and the distribution chain do their part.”


Pharmacies are required by law to report thefts or significant losses within 24 hours.


Underwood said the street price for opioids is typically $1 per milligram. The tablets in this case were each 10 milligrams each, which amounts to at least $120,000 in estimated street value.


Safeway spokeswoman Teena Massingill said in a press release that since early 2015, the company “has significantly enhanced its controlled substance monitoring program and implemented a variety of improved policies and procedures to enforce (compliance) with the Controlled Substances Act.”


Michael Carson with the Mat-Su Opioid Task Force is hoping the case can contribute positive ideas on handling problems with addiction in the future.


“Maybe actually being part of the solution is by helping other pharmacies,” Carson suggested.


Carson says the task force continues to expand its resources to help anyone affected by addiction in the community.


“I’m able to give you three phone numbers right now that I wouldn’t have been able to have given you a year ago,” he said.


The phone numbers connect people affected by opioid addiction with several types of peer-to-peer support groups. They have opioid and heroin overdose kits and drug drop-off bags available for use inside My House, located in Wasilla. You can learn about the organization’s meetings and other partnerships here.


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