A Nashville pharmacy that created a knockoff version of popular weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro was forced to shut down after its chief operating officer died by suicide, its employees took the drugs without a prescription, and it ran afoul of local health inspectors, according to a report.
ACA Pharmacy generated millions of dollars in the first half of last year as it capitalized on the craze surrounding weight loss drugs by making a generic version of appetite suppressants like Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy.
But the pharmacy’s rapid growth led it to hire dozens of pharmacists and technicians who had little to no experience working in a pharmacy, according to The Washington Post.
ACA staffers, one of which worked at a fast food restaurants before they were hired as a technician, openly used the generic medications on themselves without a prescription.
Patients reported that they were sent the wrong prescriptions while others said they received medications that were intended for someone else.
The pharmacy was also flagged by Tennessee Department of Health for failing to meet sterility standards on its premises, it was reported.
In the summer of last year, Brantley Wescott, chief operating officer of ACA parent company Rx Partners, took his own life.
Wescott died just three days after state health officials arrived for an on-site inspection during which they conducted an audit of the pharmacy’s sterility practices, according to The Washington Post.
Ned Ashley, CEO of Rx Partners and a cousin of Wescott, told police that Wescott struggled with anxiety and that the audit by health inspectors “was stressing [him] out,” according to a police report cited by the newspaper.
ACA was a compounding pharmacy, meaning that it prepared custom-made medications for people who cannot get their needs met through mass-produced pharmaceuticals.
Pharmacy staffers used their own lab on the store premises to create an injectable version of the drug that contains semaglutide and tirzepatide.
The pharmacy managed to make money by selling a compounded version of semaglutide, the anti-diabetic medication that is sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy, at a fraction of the cost of the FDA-approved versions of the drugs.
A one-month supply of Ozempic can cost $900 while Wegovy’s list price can exceed $1,300 for those who have no insurance.
ACA sold its highest dose of semaglutide for $175 for a month’s dose, according to internal company records.
The steep discount proved too enticing for customers to pass up. Between February and June, the pharmacy fulfilled more than 80,000 prescription orders, it was reported.
The influx of business forced the pharmacy to add dozens of staffers, including those who were not qualified to work there.
The Washington Post reported that one former ACA employee was hired as a technician even though her previous job was working at Wendy’s.
The technician’s role included printing prescriptions and matching them with medications.
“Our first day, they threw us on prescriptions. Nobody really trained us,” the ex-employee told The Washington Post.
While patients who used ACA’s product reported that it was effective, others at the pharmacy expressed unease over the volume of prescriptions as well as the dosage that was prescribed in some cases.
Miranda Lane told The Washington Post that she resigned in May of last year in protest over the company culture.
“If you questioned the clinical appropriateness of anything, you were told, ‘Don’t worry about it,’” Lane said.
Ashley said that the raw ingredients used to make the drugs were “lawfully purchased from a reputable drug manufacturer.”
After state health inspectors found lapses in the pharmacy’s sterility standards, it ordered the pharmacy shut in November.
Ashley told The Washington Post that the decision to shutter ACA was “nuanced and multifaceted” and that Wescott’s suicide “played a large part.”
The Post has sought comment from Rx Partners.