Oklahoma County prosecutors suspect a small south Oklahoma City pharmacy has become a go-to place for addicts who want the most often-abused prescription drugs.
“It's apparent now that the word on the street is if you want certain types of prescription drugs, you can go to Reliable Pharmacy and get it,” District Attorney David Prater said Sunday.
The pharmacy is the same one that was thrust into the national spotlight in 2009 when an employee, pharmacist Jerome Ersland, fatally shot a robber there.
Ersland, 60, was convicted last year of first-degree murder. He is serving a life sentence.
Prosecutors and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control are asking a judge to let them get involved in a lawsuit between Reliable Discount Pharmacy and its distributor.
The prosecutors and the narcotics bureau want the judge to let the distributor cut off shipments to the pharmacy at 5900 S Pennsylvania Ave.
They have told the judge that the store over the last two years has sold more of the three most abused prescription drugs than a nearby Walmart, Walgreens and another store did combined.
The distributor, Cardinal Health Inc., suspended shipments of controlled substances to Reliable Discount Pharmacy on Feb. 1. The Ohio-based, $103 billion company determined there was “an unreasonable risk for potential diversion,” records show.
Reliable Discount Pharmacy sued the distributor Feb. 10. Oklahoma County District Judge Lisa Davis the same day ordered the distributor to resume shipments for 45 days. She will decide later what happens after that.
The pharmacy's attorney told the judge the business should not have had its drug supply cut off because it is in compliance with all state and federal laws on the dispensing of controlled drugs and that it was “not being investigated for any violations currently.” The attorney insisted there were legitimate reasons for “red flags” about its drug sales.
The pharmacy also recently had changed its drug-handling policy to address the distributor's concerns and was putting in additional security cameras, its attorney, Patricia Anne Podolec, told the judge.
She told the judge the store serves low-income people who do not have insurance to cover prescriptions and who cannot afford the prices at the “chain” pharmacies.
Prosecutors and the state narcotics bureau made their request Friday to intervene in the lawsuit. If the judge lets them have a role in the case, they next will ask the judge to dissolve her order.
Attorneys for the pharmacy and distributor declined to comment about the request to intervene in the lawsuit.
Prater said the legal action is the first in a planned crackdown on prescription drug abuse.
“It's causing a large number of overdose deaths on our streets,” Prater said. “You're going to see — more and more — our office, partnering with the bureau of narcotics and DEA, to determine what doctors and what pharmacies in our jurisdiction are turning their heads at the diversion of these prescription drugs to nonmedical street use.”
The DEA is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The fatal shooting of the robber in May 2009 touched off a national debate over the pharmacist's actions. One video of the robbery made from security camera recordings has been watched more than 1.1 million times on YouTube. Thousands signed petitions last year after the jury trial. The petitions called the verdict an outrage.
Prosecutors said Ersland was justified when he first shot the unarmed robber, Antwun “Speedy” Parker, 16, in the head. They said he was wrong when he got a second gun after chasing an accomplice away and shot Parker five more times.
Prosecutors at the trial called the final shots an execution. They said Parker was unconscious and unmoving on the floor.
Ersland said he was defending himself and two female co-workers. He claimed the masked robber was getting back up.
A second robber, Jevontai Ingram, had fled already. Ingram, then 14, did have a gun.
Two men who planned the robbery were convicted of first-degree murder at a separate trial. They had ordered the teenagers to ask for the prescription drug OxyContin, according to testimony at their trial.
Prater said he now believes the two men, who hung around the northeast side of Oklahoma City, chose Reliable Discount Pharmacy miles away because of the store's reputation. “That had to be the word on the street because there was no other reason they would have targeted that pharmacy,” the district attorney said.