Opioid purchases spark legal battle between Anchorage pharmacy and major drug company

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An independent pharmacy in Anchorage is suing an international pharmaceutical company for threatening to discontinue its supply of prescription medications and other controlled substances. The drug company says it was concerned with the pharmacy’s increased opioid purchases.

Earlier this year, AmerisourceBergen Drug Company (ABDC) said it would be terminating its supply agreement with Bernie’s Pharmacy because of “an elevated percentage of opioid purchasing.”

“Specifically, it was noted that in recent months between 25% - 50% of all pharmacy purchases of Rx products in dosing units were represented by opioids,” wrote ABDC vice president David May in a letter to Bernie’s dated May 23.

“That percentage significantly exceeds the ratio we typically see in similarly situated pharmacies.”

The pharmacy filed a lawsuit against AmerisourceBergen earlier this month, alleging the “unlawful refusal to provide pharmaceutical products to Bernie’s…. despite a Prime Vendor Agreement that requires [ABDC] to provide the ordered pharmaceuticals through at least November 30, 2018.”

In a complaint filed in court on Aug. 8, Bernie’s Pharmacy argued the drug company’s concerns were “ill-defined” and that no state or federal agency has ever taken, or threatened to take, regulatory action against the pharmacy for its purchasing practices.

Anthony Calamunci, the Ohio-based attorney representing Bernie’s Pharmacy in this case, said the drug company’s decision was ill-informed and a breach of the contract.

“At a 30 thousand foot view, they were basing their decision off of purchase orders or purchase records and not really, we believe, truly accurately reflecting the dispensing information from the pharmacy,” Calamunci told Channel 2 by phone Tuesday afternoon.

Despite the drug company’s concerns, AmerisourceBergen will be required to supply Bernie’s with prescription medication for the time being, after U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess granted the pharmacy’s preliminary injunction on Friday. ABDC will continue supplying Bernie’s until Nov. 30, or until they can secure a new supplier.

AmerisourceBergen released the following statement in response to the judge’s decision:

“The conclusion by the US District Court of Alaska that AmerisourceBergen must ship opioid based products to a pharmacy our systems have flagged is illustrative of the fact that distributors should not be asked to function as law enforcers or regulators. Distributors like AmerisourceBergen walk a legal and ethical tightrope between providing access to necessary medications and preventing diversion of controlled substances. Greater regulatory guidance on how to execute our responsibilities is both welcome and necessary.”

Calamunci meanwhile praised the judge’s decision, calling it imperative to the pharmacy’s existence and the health of the customers it serves.

“Unilaterally, AmerisourceBergen attempted to terminate the supply of opioids and controlled substances in violation of the agreement and we’re just happy that judge Burgess ruled and made the findings that he did based on the evidence before him,” Calamunci said.

A manager at Bernie’s Pharmacy on Tuesday declined to speak on camera, citing the ongoing litigation.

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