Ohio fines CVS $1.5M for violations at 22 stores, including missing pills, expired meds

The CVS pharmacy on Fulton Drive NW in Jackson Township has been the focus of an Ohio Board of Pharmacy disciplinary hearing about safety and understaffing.
The CVS pharmacy on Fulton Drive NW in Jackson Township has been the focus of an Ohio Board of Pharmacy disciplinary hearing about safety and understaffing.

Ohio fined CVS $1.25 million for multiple violations at 22 stores across the state, ranging from dirty, understaffed stores to missing pills and a customer sent to the emergency room after ingesting the wrong medication.

The fine is the largest in recent Ohio Board of Pharmacy history. It is more than double the $480,000 penalty that Mount Carmel Health System paid after a doctor was accused of playing a role in more than two dozen patients' deaths.

In addition to the financial penalty, eight stores were placed on probation for three years. CVS will pay the Ohio Board of Pharmacy $250,000 to monitor these locations more closely.

The penalty also comes shortly after Ohio fined CVS $250,000 for a Canton area store that risked patients' safety.

More: CVS in Jackson Township gets probation, $250K fine over inspection violations

The violations paint a picture of how understaffed pharmacies led to mistakes and missed steps amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A suburban Cleveland store in Willoughby dispensed the wrong medication to a patient in January 2022, which led to her increased anxiety, rapid heart rate and sweating. In mid-February, she went to the emergency room for an accidental drug ingestion.

A Toledo location was cited repeatedly for running five to six days behind on prescriptions, leaving expired medication on the shelves and overworked staff with low morale. A March 2022 review of 49 prescriptions found 31% had potentially inaccurate addresses and 14% had errors in directions to patients.

In a statement, CVS Pharmacy said it was "pleased to have reached an agreement with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy regarding years-old allegations involving some of our Ohio pharmacies." It also acknowledged the importance of proper staffing.

"We’re committed to ensuring there are appropriate levels of staffing and resources at our pharmacies," according to a statement from CVS Pharmacy. The company has doled out $1 billion in wage increases for pharmacists between 2021 and 2024 and roughly $70 million in bonuses.The Ohio Board of Pharmacy's inspections demonstrate what can happen when staffing isn't up to snuff. A pharmacy near Bexley was understaffed, leading it to be five days behind in filling prescriptions in December 2022 and inundated by COVID-19 vaccination appointments. The person in charge of hiring said it was difficult to find the time to find new employees.

A CVS Pharmacy on South State Street in Westerville couldn't find 650 tramadol tablets in May 2023. It reported the loss to the DEA in mid-July but couldn't determine why it happened. A Reynoldsburg location had 480 prescriptions listed as “past due” in December 2021.

A pharmacy in Massillon would close intermittently because of understaffing, leaving patients unable to pick up their prescriptions. A patient went without her blood pressure medication for two days because it was never dispensed.

A CVS in Lebanon had multiple expired drugs, including creams and ointments, in the active drug stock. A patient received an expired blood thinner in October 2022. At a Steubenville location, three pharmacy technician trainees administered 126 COVID-19 shots that they were not qualified to give.

These are the eight stores placed on probation for three years:

  • 4121 Monroe Street, Toledo

  • 8467 East Main St., Reynoldsburg

  • 2801 Far Hills Ave., Oakwood

  • 2284 Back Orrville Road, Wooster

  • 200 South Second St., Coshocton

  • 2532 E. Main St., Columbus

  • 2987 Derr Road, Springfield

  • 1130 Lincoln Way East, Massillon

CVS must also make changes to its electronic recordkeeping system. The company acknowledged that virtual verification, a method of pharmacist dispensing that relies solely on images, isn't allowed in Ohio without prior approval from the Board of Pharmacy.

CVS settlement by Jessie Balmert on Scribd

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio fines CVS $1.5M for violations at 22 stores