Health & Medicine

DEA obtains warrant to inspect how Kaiser Roseville dispenses opioid pain meds

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has obtained an administrative warrant to ensure the pharmacy at Kaiser Permanante’s Roseville Medical Center is not improperly dispensing addictive pain medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Kaiser’s Roseville facility “is the highest purchaser of hydrocodone products within DEA’s San Francisco Field Division, with nearly 1.3 million dosage units purchased to date in 2019, which is approximately 250,000 dosage units more than the second highest purchaser,” according to an affidavit filed this week by a DEA investigator applying for the warrant.

The facility purchased more oxycodone this year than all but two other facilities in the same area, which stretches from Bakersfield to Oregon.

The affidavit said that Kaiser’s medication dispensing records revealed “potential red flags” including “the filling of prescriptions for high dosages of controlled substance opioid painkillers for multiple patients over an extended period of time.”

Kathryn R. Brown, vice president of pharmacy operations and services for Kaiser Permanante Northern California, said that Kaiser integrates its medical services, so patients see a doctor at a Kaiser facility and then often pick up their prescription at the same facility. As a result, Kaiser pharmacies often serve many more patients – Kaiser members – than local retail chain pharmacies.

Brown said Kaiser is committed to reducing opioid addiction and has adopted practices to achieve that goal. “From 2011-2017, we reduced the prescription of opioids across Kaiser Permanente members and patients by nearly 40%,” she said in a statement.

Administrative warrants are not rare. The application for this warrant did not seek to establish probable cause that a crime has occurred. Instead, it notes that the facility has not been inspected by the DEA since it opened in 2008. As such, there is “a valid public interest” in conducting an inspection, the affidavit said.

Opioid abuse is a major health problem in Sacramento and nationwide. Last year, 82 people died from opioid-related overdoses in the four-county area, according to the California Department of Public Health. Opioid prescription rates have fallen in recent years as lawmakers and medical officials take steps to address the issue.

Phillip Reese is a data specialist at The Bee and teaches at Sacramento State: 916-321-1137

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Phillip Reese is a data specialist at The Sacramento Bee and an assistant professor of journalism at Sacramento State. His journalism has won the George Polk and Worth Bingham awards, and he was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.