While the tragic consequences of the opioid epidemic continue to make headlines, and manufacturers and retailers face lawsuits for distributing these potent and addictive painkillers, Epstein Becker Green recently defended a retailer that stood its ground by refusing to fill an opioid prescription.
In November 2016, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services commenced an investigation of a drugstore chain client under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The investigation was conducted in response to a customer complaint of age and race discrimination against our client due to its decision to decline to fill an opioid prescription issued by an out-of-state physician. At issue was the validity of our client’s procedures for validating and dispensing controlled substances. After the investigation, in May 2017, OCR concluded that our client acted consistently with its procedures and did not discriminate against the patient. Accordingly, OCR declined to issue a complaint against our client, and the proceedings concluded.
The OCR decision validated the use of our client’s procedures in all of its pharmacies for filling opioid prescriptions. These procedures comply with federal and state law relating to dispensing controlled substances without violating laws prohibiting places of public accommodation from discriminating against customers with disabilities or due to race, gender, or age. OCR’s decision not to issue a complaint eliminated a threat of the application for an injunction that would have affected all of our client’s stores.