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(Reuters) - CVS Health Corp has paid $5 million to resolve allegations that pharmacies it operates in California failed to keep and maintain accurate records of prescription drugs, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.
The deal follows an investigation that began in 2012 after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration noticed an increased number of thefts and unexplained losses of the opioid pain medication hydrocodone at some CVS stores, according to settlement papers.
The settlement came as U.S. authorities continue to grapple with a national opioid addiction epidemic, which has brought increased attention on companies involved in the distribution and production of prescription painkillers.
"The Department of Justice is committed to fighting prescription drug abuse, including the alarming rise of prescription opioid abuse that is plaguing the country," U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert in Sacramento said in a statement.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, killed more than 33,000 people in the United States in 2015, more than any year on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Talbert's office, from April 2011 through April 2013, CVS pharmacies failed to provide effective controls and procedures to guard against the diversion of controlled substances.
In addition to paying $5 million, CVS also entered into an administrative compliance plan with the DEA that covers 168 pharmacies in California, Talbert's office said.
As part of the settlement agreement, CVS acknowledged that during that time frame, some of its California pharmacies failed to fulfill certain record-keeping obligations under federal law.
But CVS contends any record-keeping failure did not cause drugs to be diverted for illegal uses, the settlement agreement said.
"As the settlement agreements recognize, CVS already maintains extensive programs and measures concerning compliance with the Controlled Substances Act and corresponding regulations," CVS said in a statement.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Andrew Hay and Bill Trott