By Anna Yukhananov
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court ruled that CVS Caremark Corp may continue selling potentially addictive prescription drugs at two Florida pharmacies, blocking a Drug Enforcement Administration order to suspend shipments.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order on Wednesday temporarily lifting a February 4 DEA suspension that was issued because of concerns that CVS was not adequately watching for prescription abuse.
The DEA said the two CVS pharmacies in Sanford, about 30 miles south of Orlando, were inappropriately filling prescriptions for the painkiller oxycodone, which can be highly addictive. They also had suspicious sales of other controlled substances.
CVS said the DEA had acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner in ordering sales suspended, and that remedial steps taken by CVS were sufficient. It said it would suffer irreparable harm if forced to stop filling prescriptions at the pharmacies.
Initially a federal district court judge blocked the DEA order but on Tuesday agreed to let it take effect. CVS appealed the decision.
The appeals court in Washington on Wednesday granted CVS's request and issued a stay pending further proceedings. The court ordered CVS to file a response by March 19 and the DEA to file its response by March 21, according to the court docket.
The litigation stems from the DEA's battle against prescription drug abuse, which has surged in the United States to eclipse abuse of most illicit drugs including heroin and cocaine.
The DEA said in court documents that about 7 million Americans abuse pharmaceuticals made with controlled substances for purposes not related to medicine and that Florida is the center of the growing epidemic.
The CVS appeal comes on the heels of a similar stay order issued to Cardinal Health Inc after the DEA tried to prevent it from selling any controlled substances from its facility in Lakeland, Florida. The DEA said four of Cardinal's customers, including the two CVS stores, filled illegitimate prescriptions.
The case is Holiday CVS LLC v. Justice Department et al in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 12-5072.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Derek Caney)