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Opioid Drugs

Arkansas AG Questions Walgreens’ Opioid Distribution Policies

— March 22, 2021

Arkansas alleges Walgreens ignored suspicious opioid orders.

Arkansas Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, has filed a lawsuit against nationwide retail pharmacy Walgreens, accusing the chain of fueling the opioid epidemic by filling a large number of suspicious orders.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Arkansas had the second highest opioid dispensing rate of any state in the U.S., at 80.9 prescriptions for every 100 persons.

The case was filed in Pulaski County Court and alleges the Walgreens violated the Arkansas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act by ignoring red flags against suspicious prescriptions being filled across the state.  Walgreens distributed “more than 142 million dosage units of oxycodone and hydrocodone in the state from 2006 to 2014,” according to the lawsuit, which continues, “This high volume of opioids alone should have alerted Walgreens to the fact that suspicious orders were being placed, as the amount of opioids that were sent into Arkansas far exceeded what could be consumed for medically legitimate purposes.  Yet, Walgreens failed to report and halt those orders and instead increased the number of pills distributed.”

Arkansas AG Questions Walgreens' Opioid Distribution Policies
Photo by Anna Shvets on Unsplash

Walgreens responded, saying it would “vigorously defend itself” against the move, and its “primary focus has always been patient health and safety.”  The company insisted its pharmacists “are equipped with robust policies and procedures as they make their best clinical judgment.”

“Prescriptions are written by doctors based on their medical training, experience and clinical judgment, and when a patient presents a prescription that gives no reason to question its legitimacy, the pharmacist is obligated to fill the prescription exactly as written,” the company said.

Rutledge’s lawsuit specifically claims Walgreens cost the Arkansas residents millions of dollars for opioid orders that were” illegal, misrepresented, unfair or harmful to consumers.”

Other pharmacy chains have been targeted for their involvement in the crisis.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) bought action against Walmart late last year and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has taken the position that Walmart’s policies were far too relaxed.

“We entrust distributors and dispensers with the responsibility to ensure controlled substances do not fall into the wrong hands,” said DEA Acting Administrator Timothy Shea.  “When processes to safeguard against drug diversion are violated or ignored, or when pharmacies routinely fill illegitimate prescriptions, we will hold accountable anyone responsible, including Walmart.  Too many lives have been lost because of oversight failures and those entrusted with responsibility turning a blind eye.”

Walmart had defended itself against the DEA’s allegations by stating the agency has little leverage in a letter that reads, “[The DEA] does not act as the federal equivalent of a state medical board overseeing the general practice of medicine.  The DEA lacks the authority to issue guidelines that constitute advice relating to the general practice of medicine.  The DEA has not promulgated new regulations regarding the treatment of pain.  Federal law and DEA regulations do not impose a specific quantitative minimum or maximum limit on the amount of medication that may be prescribed on a single prescription, or the duration.”

As the epidemic rages on, many states are bringing action against drug companies, pharmacies, and many other parties with claims of overprescribing and excessive distribution in an effort to regain funds that have been lost in battling addiction.  Opioids have been linked with 470,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000.


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