TAMPA, Fla. (CBS Tampa) – The Drug Enforcement Agency busts a Florida family described as the biggest pharmacy distributor of oxycodone in the U.S.

A father-and-son duo plead guilty in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to operating pain pharmacies that dispensed millions of dollars in prescription meds illegally, according to court records. The pharmacy sold nearly 2.7 million oxycodone pills in a 17-month period.

Louis Fernandez, Jr., 66, and Louis Fernandez III, 40, plead guilty to federal drug conspiracy, a charge with a maximum 20-year prison sentence and a $1 million fine. The pair is likely to receive lesser sentences, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Another co-defendant, Marco Beltran, pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. Other co-defendants on lesser but serious federal drug charges, Christopher Switlyk and Kimberly Curtiss, also pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial as well.

Court documents indicate that VIP Pharmacy bought 2.7 million oxycodone pills between January 2009 and May 2010, ranging between $2 to $7 for each pill. To put VIP’s haul into perspective, the 1.2 million dosages of oxycodone the pharmacy purchased in a five-month span from January to May 2010 was more than 76 times the national average for the amount of oxycodone sold by an average retail pharmacy.

“The defendants illegally operated the clinics and pharmacy by facilitating the distribution of quantities of controlled substances, primarily Oxycodone,” according to two plea agreements for the Fernandez pair.

By continuing to operate VIP, the Fernandez pair and Beltran “allowed or caused blank prescription pads from the clinics to be sold, bartered or used and forged with physician’s names, signatures and DEA registration numbers in order to illegally fill and dispense controlled substances out of pharmacies.”

Court documents detail how witnesses reported that operating technicians at the Tampa establishment would fabricate prescriptions and falsify patient profiles, many of whom were coming from outside of Florida.

The DEA’s takedown of VIP is the latest effort on the part of Florida health regulators to curtail the illegal use of prescription pills. Oxycodone led the way amongst fatal cases in which prescription drugs were the cause of death at 1,516 cases in 2010, an increase by 27.9 percent compared to 2009, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“The severity of this epidemic cannot be overstated,” Florida State Surgeon General Frank Farmer said in an August release. “[The Department of Health] is committed to suspending and revoking the licenses of unscrupulous practitioners who inappropriately prescribe highly addictive controlled substances to patients, with the hopes of stopping countless senseless deaths in our state.”


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