By Toni Clarke
BOSTON (Reuters) - The Drug Enforcement Administration said on Friday it is inspecting six Walgreens Co pharmacies and one distribution center in Florida as part of a crackdown on prescription drug abuse.
The agency issued inspection warrants on Wednesday to Walgreens' distribution center in Jupiter and to retail stores in Hudson, Port Richey, Oviedo, Fort Myers and two stores in Fort Pierce, said Mia Ro, a spokeswoman for the DEA in Miami.
The action follows DEA's recent move to suspend Cardinal Health Inc's license to distribute controlled substances -- drugs that are susceptible to abuse -- from its facility in Lakeland, Florida, and also intervened to prevent two CVS Caremark Corp pharmacies in Florida from selling controlled substances. The companies are fighting the orders in court.
"We are working with, and cooperating with, the DEA on this matter," Robert Elfinger, Walgreens spokesman, said in an email.
Ro said the pharmacies came to the attention of the DEA based on several red flags, primarily the volume being shipped to these outlets. The inspection warrants will allow the DEA's diversion investigators to examine the pharmacies' records and receipts to determine whether drugs were being diverted to the illicit market.
The pharmacies are not required to stop selling controlled substances, which include narcotic painkillers, while the DEA conducts its inspection.
The DEA has been ratcheting up its focus on drug wholesalers and pharmacies in recent months as it attempts to battle what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call a prescription drug abuse "epidemic." Deaths from narcotic painkillers now exceed those of heroin and cocaine combined.
Florida has long been considered the epicenter of prescription drug abuse and the DEA has, over the past year, dismantled dozens of "pill mills" - sham pain clinics whose doctors write prescriptions for thousands of pain pills to drug dealers and addicts.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)