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Opioid Drugs

Filing Contends Pill-pushing Pharmacies Should Not be Forgotten

— June 4, 2020

Pharmacies need to be held accountable for excessive opioid orders, according to lawsuit.

A recent court filing contends arge pharmacy chains including CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Giant Eagle and Walmart were, for years, marketing opioid drugs as safer than they truly are.  The retailers focused on selling pills to rural communities, the suit contends, offering bonuses for pharmacists who could pill push.

The new complaint specifically states:

“CVS worked with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, to offer promotional seminars on pain management to its pharmacists so they could reassure patients and doctors about the safety of the drug.;

In partnership with Endo Pharmaceuticals, CVS sent letters to patients encouraging them to maintain prescriptions of Opana, a potent opioid eventually removed from the market altogether.;

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

Walgreens’ contract with the drug distributor AmerisourceBergen specified that Walgreens be allowed to police its own orders, without oversight from the distributor.  Similar conditions were struck by CVS with its distributor, Cardinal Health.”

Filing Contends Pill-pushing Pharmacies Should Not be Forgotten
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

CVS responded, stating, “Opioids are made and marketed by drug manufacturers, not pharmacists.  Pharmacists dispense opioid prescriptions written by a licensed physician for a legitimate medical need.”

Walgreens had previously stated, “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.”

Even though they were repeatedly fined by the Drug Enforcement Administration for failing to report excessive orders, the pharmacies continued to sell high volumes of addictive drugs, rarely raising red flags, the filing contends.  Walmart, specifically, fixed a hard limit on opioid quantities it would distribute to its stores, so its pharmacists would not have to report.  While this seemed like a good plan on the surface, the chain then allowed its stores to make up the difference by buying the remainder from other distributors.p

“Three Walmart pharmacies in Lake County sold 6.4 million opioid pills from 2006 through 2014,” the filing alleges. “But Walmart did not file any suspicious order reports from those stores between 2007 and 2014, the period for which the plaintiffs have such data.”  It continues, “CVS was so eager to ally itself with Purdue that it solicited Purdue for its participation in co-hosting Continuing Education programs for health care providers and pharmacists regarding training on diversion of prescription opioids.”

Judge Dan Polster, appointed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton and overseeing the consolidated litigation in Cleveland, had given bellwether status to retail pharmacy cases brought by San Francisco and the Cherokee Nation.  The recent complaint, over 200 pages, is more broad and is set to be heard in May 2020.  It focuses primarily on the claim that the pharmacy chains did little to set up protocols to monitor excessive shipments to distribution centers or raise concerns over suspicious orders.  The complaint also contends that supervisors ignored those pharmacists who did their duty to report pill mills.


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