AUGUSTA (AP) – A Gardiner-based pharmacy will pay more than $1 million to settle a case in which Maine’s attorney general alleged illegal switching of drugs to bolster the company’s bottom line.

Attorney General G. Steven Rowe said in a complaint in Kennebec County Superior Court that Omnicare Pharmacy of Maine switched patients from a cheaper tablet form of the anti-ulcer drug Ranitidine to the more expensive capsule form without doctors’ prescriptions. The drug is the generic form of Zantac.

“The reason this was done was to increase corporate profits at the expense of our state’s most vulnerable citizens,” Rowe said during a news conference to outline the settlement.

Rowe said he was outraged by the violation of trust between pharmacists and doctors and by the alleged defrauding of MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Omnicare Pharmacy of Maine, a subsidiary of a Omnicare Inc., a national company based in Covington, Ky., rejected the state’s allegations and noted that the settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing.

Rowe said investigators were drawn to the case after state human services officials pointed to a sudden spike in claims for Ranitidine capsules, which corresponded to a similarly sharp drop in the number of claims for the cheaper tablets around May 2000.

The investigation focused on a period from January 2000 to June 2001. MaineCare paid $15.10 per month for the drug in tablet form and $82.77 per month in capsule form, a difference of $67.67.

Tablets were cheaper because their price was capped by the federal government while capsules were not, state officials said.

The complaint said that in 267 cases, Omnicare created false telephone prescription orders that were sent to residential care facilities. It also sent out letters and faxes to prescribers recommending the switch, saying it would benefit payers, the state said.

More than 1,200 reimbursement claims were illegal because prescribers did not authorize them or authorized them based on misrepresentations, the complaint alleged.

Omnicare will pay $1.08 million in fines, damages and costs under the settlement. As part of the total, MaineCare receives full restitution, which amounts to $198,188 with interest, officials said.

The company also agreed to provide training and oversight in order to prevent similar violations in the future.

Omnicare Maine spokesman Andy Brimmer said patient safety was never in question and that the company agreed to the settlement to avoid long and costly litigation. He said the company cooperated with the state’s investigation.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.