CVS Pharmacy, which operates 850 pharmacies in California, including two in Pleasanton, has been fined $658,500 for its pharmacists' failures to consult with patients on new or changed prescriptions as required by law.
The judgment, rendered in San Diego Superior Court, is a result of a joint action by the Board of Pharmacy, the San Diego County district attorney's Consumer Protection Unit and Riverside and Alameda County district attorney offices.
The civil complaint, filed under the state's unfair competition laws, alleged that CVS pharmacists throughout the state frequently failed to comply fully with state rules requiring personal pharmacist consultations when prescription drug patients receive new prescriptions or new dosages of existing prescriptions.
Stanley Weisser, Board of Pharmacy president, said the patient consultation rules are in place to ensure patients understand how to take their medications. He said consultation also serves as a double-check to ensure everything about the medication is correct for the patient.
Weisser said studies have found that 46% of patients misunderstand one or more instructions on prescription labels.
"It's important that patients understand the proper use of their medications," Weisser said.
"A pharmacist obtains four years of post-graduate, specialized education in pharmacy and is the last health care professional a patient typically sees before initiating drug therapy."
"A consultation helps minimize or avoid medication errors, screens for drug interactions and ensures better compliance with therapy," Weisser added.
A California's pharmacy law, enforced by the Board of Pharmacy, requires that a pharmacist must provide oral consultation on all new prescriptions not previously dispensed to a patient, as well as whenever the dosage, strength or written instructions change, or at anytime a customer requests an explanation.
The defendants in the suit were a CVS store in Garfield Beach and Longs Drugs Stores, California, also owned by CVS.
The district attorney offices in San Diego, Alameda and Riverside counties worked with the Board of Pharmacy in undercover investigations of the consultation practices of a number of major pharmacy chains in the state. The CVS enforcement action is just the first of several anticipated as a result of that investigation, according to Weisser.
He said the Board of Pharmacy provided the district attorneys with copies of 22 citations it had issued to CVS between March 2008 and September 2012 showing a continuing pattern of violations of the consultation requirement.
Then, undercover investigations by the district attorneys in 2011 and 2012 in San Diego, Riverside and Alameda counties found a number of instances where CVS pharmacies did not offer or provide the required consultations or improper personnel offered consultations.
CVS agreed to pay agency investigative costs of $97,500 and civil penalties totaling $561,000.
Out of the judgment, the three district attorney offices will each receive $19,166 for the cost of the investigation, plus $187,000 each in civil penalties. The Board of Pharmacy will receive $30,000 for investigation costs and the consumer Protection Prosecution Trust Fund will receive $10,000, according to California State Board of Pharmacy spokeswoman Joyia Emard.