WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court has agreed to temporarily allow Cardinal Health Inc to continue distributing strictly-controlled prescription drugs from a Florida facility, blocking a Drug Enforcement Administration order to suspend shipments.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order late on Friday temporarily lifting a February 3 DEA suspension that was issued because of concerns that Cardinal was not adequately watching for prescription abuse.
The DEA has said that Cardinal either knew or should have known that four of its customers, including two CVS Caremark Corp pharmacies, were inappropriately filling prescriptions for oxycodone, a potentially highly-addictive painkiller, from its Lakeland, Florida facility.
Cardinal, one of the country's largest drug distributors, said it had already cut off supplies to two of the pharmacies before the DEA's suspension order. It cut supplies to the remaining two pharmacies as soon as the DEA issued its order.
Initially a federal district court judge blocked the DEA order but last week agreed to let it take effect, a move that would have forced Cardinal to supply pharmacies from a facility further away. Cardinal appealed the decision.
The appeals court in Washington late Friday granted Cardinal's request and issued a stay pending further proceedings. The court ordered Cardinal to file its emergency motion by March 14 and the DEA to file its response by March 16, according to the court docket.
An administrative hearing of Cardinal's Lakeland license is scheduled to begin at the DEA on April 3. That process could take as long as a year to play out as both sides present their cases.
The DEA judge will then make a recommendation to the DEA's administrator, Michele Leonhart, who will make a ruling. Leonhart signed the initial order to suspend Cardinal's license.
The case is Cardinal Health Inc v. Justice Department et al in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 12-5061.
(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Dave Zimmerman)