Rite-Aid and Walgreens are accused of fueling the opioid crisis in new West Virginia lawsuit.
A West Virginia state lawsuit alleges the large pharmacy chains Rite-Aid and Walgreens “failed to monitor and report suspicious orders of prescription painkillers in West Virginia while inundating their retail pharmacies with tens of millions of pills.” The lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, cites, “violations of the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act and conduct that caused a public nuisance.” The suit was filed this month in Putnam County Circuit Court.
Court documents claim, “Rite-Aid and Walgreens were among the state’s top 10 opioid distributors from 2006 to 2014. Rite-Aid distributed the equivalent of more than 87 million oxycodone pills and its retail pharmacies ordered another 127.5 million pills from other distributors to fulfill demand. That’s about 119 pills for every resident in the state of 1.8 million people.”
Walgreens was specifically responsible for issuing the equivalent of 29.6 million pills in the state, which has been one of the hard hit amid the opioid epidemic, and its pharmacies bought another 17.6 million, according to court documents.
“Prescription opioid pill mills and rogue prescribers cannot channel opioids for illicit use without at least the tacit support and willful blindness of distributors, if not their knowing support,” Morrisey stated. “Those who unconscionably help create our state’s opioid epidemic should be held accountable, pay for their role in the crisis and act to remediate the problem. West Virginia deserves nothing less.”
He added, “Unfortunately as the opioid crisis raged and as pills were being diverted from legitimate medical uses to abuse on an unprecedented scale, the DEA was absolutely asleep at the switch and allowed more and more pain pills to be reduced. Between the time period of 2010 and 2016, DEA was not even attempting to account for opioid diversion and abuse when it set production limits. What’s worse is the DEA advocated its role of setting these in many cases to the drug makers’ projections.”
Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso responded that the company “never manufactured or marketed opioids, and never sold opioids to the pain clinics, internet pharmacies and ‘pill mills’ that fueled the opioid crisis.”
Previously, in 2014, Caruso issued a statement, indicating, “Walgreens delivered opioids only to its own pharmacies, and the only place we ever sold opioids was at the pharmacy counter, when presented with a prescription written by a prescriber, with a valid DEA license, for a legitimate medical need.”
Rite-Aid sold 104 West Virginia stores to Walgreens in the one-year span between 2017 and 2018, the lawsuit contends. Morrisey’s office is recommending that “the DEA demand higher standards of data from drug manufacturers, improve its data collection and better maintain internal data sets, aggressively review past years’ quotas to quantify how much they exceeded actual consumption and need, and develop a concrete, data-driven methodology of accounting for diversion.”
The state has settled lawsuits with AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson over the past three years for a total of $63 million. Its communities are still seeking a $1.25 billion settlement with the three companies and are set to go to trial in late 2020.