Court filing: pharmacy chains helped feed the opioid epidemic

A Wednesday morning court filing says pharmacies including CVS, Walgreens, Giant Eagle and Rite Aid, as well as pharmacies operated by Walmart, helped fuel the opioid crisis which took almost 50,000 American lives in 2017.

According to the court filing:

• CVS worked with OxyContin’s manufacturer Purdue Pharma to give its pharmacists pain management promotional seminars intended to enable the pharmacists to reassure doctors and patients about OxyContin’s safety;

• CVS, along with Endo Pharmaceuticals, encouraged patients in letters to maintain their Opana prescriptions. Opana is an opioid with such high abuse potential that the FDA removed its extended-release formulation from the market in 2017;

• The Rite Aid in Painesville, Ohio sold over 4.2 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone from 2006 through 2014. Painesville has a population of 19,524. Rite Aid offered bonuses to its stores with the highest productivity;

• Walgreens got drug distributor AmerisourceBergen to agree to a contract allowing Walgreens to police its own orders without distributor oversight. CVS established similar conditions with distributor Cardinal Health;

• Retail pharmacy chains running 31 pharmacies in Lake County, Ohio sold almost 64 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone from 2006 through 2014. Lake County has a population of 220,000, meaning the pharmacies sold 290 pills for every person in the county;

• 28 pharmacies sold almost 68 million doses in Trumbull County during that same time period. This meant that more than 322 pills for every person in the county were sold. Trumbull County’s population is 220,000.

Drug suppliers, retailers and manufacturers are mandated by federal law to report suspiciously large orders of opiates to the DEA. The court filing said Walmart developed a workaround to this requirement. Walmart put a hard limit on the quantities of opioids it distributed to its stores. This did away with the need to report excessive orders. However, Walmart went around the reporting requirement by allowing its stores to buy additional opioids from other distributors.

The court filing says the pharmacies delayed setting up regional distribution centers’ monitoring protocols, enforced those protocols poorly at best, repeatedly raised pill quantity thresholds which may otherwise lead to a flagged report, rewarded pharmacists who sold a lot of pills and ordered pharmacists to never refuse prescriptions.

The filing also states that supervisors ignored warnings about pill mill doctors, including doctors who ended up being convicted.

The first lawsuit to advance against retailers is scheduled for November 2020.


About the author

Nadrich & Cohen, LLP

Nadrich & Cohen, LLP is a California personal injury law firm with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Modesto, Fresno, Tracy and Palm Desert. The firm has been representing victims of dangerous drugs since 1990 and has recovered over $350,000,000 on behalf of clients in that time.

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