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Tennessee’s AG Shifts His Focus to Opioid-Supplying Pharmacies

— February 11, 2021

Herbert Slatery files a lawsuit against opioid dispenser Food City.

Tennessee’s Attorney General (AG) Herbert Slatery has filed a lawsuit against Food City alleging the supermarket chain’s pharmacies “intentionally profited” from the opioid epidemic.  Slatery’s more than 200-page complaint, filed Knox County Circuit Court, claims the chain sold “tens of millions of prescription opioids” in the state.  In fact, the suit says, 23% of the opioids the company’s Tennessee pharmacies sold in an eight-year span between 2006 and 2014 were from a single Knoxville-based location.

According to the Slatery, the Knoxville store purchased more 30-milligram oxycodone from its primary supplier from October 2011 to January 2012 “than was bought by all of the pharmacies in 38 entire states and the Washington, D.C.”  Moreover, “The company sold large amounts of opioids to people from other countries and far-off U.S. states as multiple overdoses happened in stores or their parking lots.”

These suspicious business practices went unreported, and Food City even went so far as to create a prescription savings card program that offered its customers “discounts on opioids, enacted a policy to order as many opioids as a supplier would send to each store and pressured employees to increase opioid sales,” the complaint alleges.

Tennessee's AG Shifts His Focus to Opioid-Supplying Pharmacies
Photo by Dima Mukhin on Unsplash

The AG stated, Food City “traded prescriptions for cash and ignored drug deals and drug-related crimes in pharmacy parking lots.  [Its] pharmacies in Knoxville filled opiate prescriptions for customers from states [such] as Hawaii and three foreign countries.  It stoked the market with the most diverted and abused opioids, pushed its pharmacists to sell more and more, and ignored the most alarming evidence – overdoses and illegal sales taking place right outside the pharmacy door.”

Spokesperson for Food City’s parent company, K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., Tammy Baumgardner, said in response to the litigation that the company “will defend itself against the lawsuit’s grossly incorrect and unfair allegations.”  What’s more, “a few of its pharmacies had dispensed a high volume of opioids so the company contracted with independent auditors and experts to assure its practices were compliant with state and federal regulations…The Attorney General unfortunately has joined the nationwide bandwagon led by the plaintiff’s bar in bringing meritless attacks against pharmacies, having failed to make measurable progress in its efforts to hold manufacturer, distributors, and physicians accountable.”

Slatery also recently announced Tennessee will receive $15.2 million from a $573 million settlement with McKinsey & Co. for its role in the opioid crisis.  He is waging an ongoing legal battle with firms his office contends contributed to the addiction crisis while turning a profit, including opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies, beginning this battle by filing lawsuits under the Tennessee Consumer Protections Act and the state’s public nuisance laws in 2018.

Initially, Tennessee’s AG targeted Purdue Pharma.  Then, his office went after Endo Pharmaceuticals in 2019, and sued AmerisourceBergen the same year.  Now his focus has shifted to the role of pharmacies, focusing on Food City, a plaintiff with $2.5 billion in annual sales and 130 stores across three states – Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky.  The lawsuits, as with many others filed across the U.S., are meant to help the state fund addiction rehabilitation programs and reimburse for the costs of fighting the epidemic.


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