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Prosecutors: Walgreens had lax control over prescription painkillers

A criminal investigation into a Coram nurse practitioner's repeated prescription forgeries helped lead to a record $80 million federal settlement with the nation's largest drugstore chain over a pattern of lax controls of addictive painkillers, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Eva MacDowall filled 94 illegal prescriptions for the powerful painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone at Walgreens stores, two in Medford and one in Selden, over a two-year period ending July 2010, prosecutors said Wednesday. Walgreens employees "knew, or should have known, [the prescriptions] were not issued for a legitimate medical purpose," prosecutors said.

"These three stores allowed themselves to become a haven for prescription drug abusers, turning a blind eye as MacDowall repeatedly filled one forged prescription after another," said Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District.

Brian Crowell, special agent-in-charge at the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's New York field office, said the probe began in 2010 when the Suffolk County Police Department began investigating MacDowall. A federal drug task force joined the case, leading to the nationwide civil investigation, he said.

Details of the settlement, first announced in June, were revealed Wednesday, after MacDowall pleaded guilty in Suffolk County Court to one charge of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. It was not immediately clear what sentence she faced.

The settlement is the largest sum ever paid by a pharmacy chain in the United States and came about as a result of probes into Walgreen Co. pharmacies on Long Island and in Florida, Colorado, Michigan, and other parts of the country, the release said.

Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen Co. agreed to stop six of its pharmacies and one of its distribution centers from distributing certain addictive drugs for two years, prosecutors said.

The chain also agreed to create a Department of Pharmaceutical Integrity to ensure compliance with federal regulations and to prevent the diversion of controlled substances to addicts and drug dealers, prosecutors said.

Neither MacDowall nor her lawyer could be reached.

In a statement released in June, Walgreen Co. said, "As the largest pharmacy chain in the U.S., we are fully committed to do our part to reduce prescription drug abuse."

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