Puerto Rican Betances Pharma Distributor Fined $12M for Opioid Lapses

Drogueria Betances, a major pharmaceutical distributor in Puerto Rico, faces a $12 million fine for failing to report suspicious opioid orders amidst a surge in related overdoses on the island. The U.S. Justice Department's order also mandates comprehensive improvements to the company's substance monitoring and reporting systems.


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Latin American Post Staff

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Leer en español: Distribuidor puertorriqueño de Betances Pharma multado con 12 millones de dólares por falta de opioides


Opioid Crisis in Puerto Rico: Justice Department Imposes $12 Million Fine

In a sweeping action that underscores the gravity of the opioid crisis in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Justice Department has imposed a $12 million fine on Drogueria Betances, LLC, one of the island's largest pharmaceutical distributors. The company has been accused of neglecting to report hundreds of questionable orders for controlled substances, including potent opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone. The orders, placed between 2016 and June 2019, raised red flags due to their size and frequency, indicative of potential diversion to the black market.

This enforcement comes at a critical time as Puerto Rico grapples with a dramatic increase in opioid-related fatalities, climbing from 19 deaths in 2017 to a staggering 521 in 2021. The rise in overdose deaths reflects a broader crisis that has swept through the United States, with opioid addiction and fatalities reaching epidemic proportions. Puerto Rico, despite being a U.S. territory, has often been overlooked in the national conversation about the opioid crisis. Still, the substantial fine levied against Drogueria Betances places the island's struggle in the spotlight.

Crackdown on Pharmaceutical Industry's Role in the Epidemic

The Justice Department's action against the distributor is part of a broader crackdown on the pharmaceutical industry's role in the opioid epidemic. Drogueria Betances stands accused not only of failing to report suspicious orders but also of committing hundreds of record-keeping violations. Perhaps most critically, the company allegedly did not submit reports of its distribution transactions to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), an essential requirement meant to prevent the diversion of opioids, for over a year.

In response to these serious allegations, Drogueria Betances has agreed to pay the fine and to enhance its monitoring and reporting systems. The company's president, Juan Carlos Hernández, asserted that Drogueria Betances has consistently invested in technology and expertise to comply with regulations concerning controlled medications. He emphasized that the company has never been charged with diverting controlled substances to unauthorized parties.

Enhancing Compliance: A Critical Step Forward

However, the settlement also requires Drogueria Betances to improve its compliance program significantly. This includes implementing more robust mechanisms to detect and report suspicious orders to the DEA. The mandate highlights a critical need for pharmaceutical distributors to be at the forefront of efforts to curb opioid abuse by identifying and halting potential points of illegal diversion.

The opioid crisis in Puerto Rico reflects complex social and medical challenges. Historically, the island has been a drug transit point due to its location between South and North America. Still, in recent years, local consumption, particularly of pharmaceutical opioids, has become a growing concern. The situation has been exacerbated by economic struggles and a healthcare system still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Also read: Puerto Rico to Receive a $440 Million Solar Initiative for Low-Income Homes

Industry's Duty: Preventing Drug Abuse

The fine against Drogueria Betances is a potent reminder of the pharmaceutical industry's duty to partake actively in preventing drug abuse. As distributors handle the flow of medications from manufacturers to pharmacies and hospitals, they play a crucial role in monitoring and controlling the distribution of opioids. The failure to report suspicious activity not only breaches regulatory requirements but can also contribute to the proliferation of addiction and overdose deaths.

Beyond the immediate legal and financial repercussions, the settlement is a call to action for the industry. It emphasizes the urgent need to reassess and reinforce the systems that govern the distribution of potentially lethal medications. As Puerto Rico and the rest of the U.S. continue to combat the opioid crisis, the actions taken against Drogueria Betances will likely serve as a precedent for ensuring compliance and safeguarding public health.

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