The Walgreens store on Route 1 in Bucksport is seen in this Dec. 26 photo. Credit: Contributed

A pharmacist has sued Walgreens claiming that he was illegally fired from the Bucksport store for refusing to fill a prescription for fentanyl patches for a Verona Island man facing drug charges.

John Simms, 61, of Hampden alleged in the complaint, filed Dec. 16 in U.S. District Court in Bangor, that his supervisor directed Simms to fill the prescription “without question.”

“Simms disregarded this unprofessional and unlawful directive from his supervisor and took the necessary steps to prevent the potential introduction of fentanyl into an illicit drug distribution network,” the complaint said.

In firing Simms, Walgreens violated the Maine Whistleblowers Protection Act, committed age discrimination and defamed him by falsifying the reasons for his termination, the 27-page complaint, filed by attorney Chad Hansen of Portland, claims.

Walgreens spokeswoman Alexandra Brown denied the allegations Thursday, saying the complaint “lacks merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves.”

Simms is asking U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen to order Walgreens to reinstate him, stop retaliating against employees who report violations of the law and inform all employees that the company will not tolerate retaliation in the future. He is seeking unspecified damages.

The pharmacist began working at the drug store on Route 1 in September 2014, when it was part of the Rite Aid chain. He was fired April 4, 2018.

Simms allegedly became concerned in 2017 about a prescription for fentanyl patches for a then 43-year-old man identified in the complaint by initials that are not his.

The patches, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson as Duragesic, are intended to deliver three days of pain relief. The patient was prescribed one patch per day for 28 days because he sweated so much that the patches would not remain on his skin for more than a day, the complaint said.

Simms expressed concern to his direct supervisor, a fellow pharmacist, that filling the prescription could endanger the patient’s health and safety and violate laws around narcotics dispensing. He also was concerned that leftover patches, which contained two days worth of fentanyl, were not being disposed of safely, according to the complaint. The patient’s wife allegedly told Simms that her husband threw them out with the trash.

On Feb. 14, 2018, Simms read in an online version of the Ellsworth American, a weekly newspaper, that the patient receiving the fentanyl patches and his wife had been arrested by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency for allegedly selling crack cocaine and heroin from their Verona Island home. He became concerned that the patches might have been distributed illegally, the complaint said.

Simms decided it would be inappropriate for him to fill the prescription again, according to the lawsuit. Simms’ supervisor disagreed and told Simms it was his job as a pharmacist to fill the prescription and not to question the physician who wrote it.

Walgreens allegedly fired Simms for unauthorized access to the patient’s profile to determine when the next set of patches was due to be distributed. That was a pretext for firing Simms so Walgreens could replace him with a younger employee, the complaint alleged.

Simms has been unable to find work as a pharmacist since his firing, Hansen said.