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Opioid Drugs

Pharmacies Place Blame on Opioid Prescribing Physicians

— January 14, 2020

Pharmacies shift blame to prescribers in opioid litigation.

CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Rite Aid, and Walmart pharmacies are attempting to shift the blame to prescribers for issuing the addictive opioid pain killers that the stores filled.  Last October, a federal lawsuit begins against CVS, Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Rite-Aid and other major pharmacy chains was filed in two counties in Ohio, Summit and Cuyahoga, and now the stores are filing against physicians across northeast Ohio.  If physicians, rather than massive pharmacy chains, are held liable, they could be permanently bankrupted and out of business, and the countersuit against doctors adds yet another layer of complexity to the federal opioid lawsuit.

Of the countersuit, Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, a University of Georgia law professor, said, “It seems to both try to pass the buck onto these third-party doctors, and put the onus on the plaintiffs to identify them.”  By citing physician responsibility but failing to personally identify each individual in the suit, the pharmacies have added another level to the opioid litigation.  Experts believe this could be part of their legal strategy.

Pharmacies Place Blame on Opioid Prescribing Physicians
Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

“While pharmacists are highly trained and licensed professionals … they do not write prescriptions,” attorneys for the pharmacies wrote. They noted further “the complaint against the pharmacies fails to identify even one prescription that was supposedly filled improperly by any pharmacist working for any of the Summit County Pharmacy Chains.  Not one…A prescription for a controlled substance is an order for a medication that may be issued only by a physician or other authorized healthcare practitioner.  While pharmacists are highly trained and licensed professionals, they did not attend medical school and are not trained as physicians.”

The pharmacies also noted that “the counties did not sue independent drugstores, ‘pill mills,’ internet pharmacies and ‘unscrupulous pain clinics,’ even though they provided more than 40 percent of the opioids dispensed in Cuyahoga County and more than 60 percent of the opioids dispensed in Summit County.”  The countercomplaint states, “In a misguided hunt for deep pockets without regard to actual fault or legal liability, Plaintiff has elected not to sue any of these other parties.”

Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso said, “This complaint is required to respond to the unsubstantiated allegations by Plaintiffs that pharmacists should not have filled prescriptions, written by doctors, for FDA-approved opioid medications.”  He added, Walgreens believes “that the overwhelming majority of prescriptions dispensed were properly prescribed by doctors to meet the legitimate needs of their patients.”

The initial federal trial against six drug distributors and manufacturers ended last October and in a statement following the trial, the attorneys for these plaintiffs said there are “multiple parties that have contributed to the opioid epidemic…However, we have demonstrated and will continue to show that the origins of the opioid crisis and the fuel that spread the epidemic can be traced back to the behavior and practices of corporations in the drug supply chain.  Without widespread wrongdoing by the opioid industry, including pharmacies, we would not be in the place we are today…Pharmacies saw the devastating consequences of this public health crisis firsthand and we will show they did little to nothing to address them.”


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