A new court filing against big American pharmacy retailers has been submitted in the multi-district litigation in Ohio Federal Court overseen by Judge Dan Polster. The complaint accuses major pharmacies, including CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart and Giant Eagle of being complicit in perpetuating the crisis as manufactures and distributors of the addictive drugs.
The bellwether cases against opioid manufacturers were set to begin March 20th, yet has been postponed due to the COVID epidemic. While COVID has put a hold on any restitution city and states might receive, increased unemployment, isolation and despair has only made the opioid epidemic worse.
Retailers worked with drug manufacturers to promote opioids as safe, offered high-volume bonuses to pharmacists and sold millions of pills in tiny communities.
According to the New York Times, the complaint lays out evidence that:
- 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 so prone to abuse that in 2017 the Food and Drug Administration ordered its extended-release formulation removed from the market.
- 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. The national retailer 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.
CVS, Walgreens and other retailers are claiming their pharmacies were simply filling prescriptions as written by doctors.
However, federal law requires manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers to report suspiciously high orders to the DEA. The chains have been fined repeated for failing to do so.
Texas federal prosecutors were set to file criminal charges against Walmart for the corporations negligence in ignoring its own pharmacists raising red flags over filing opioid prescriptions written by doctors known to be running pill mills. The DOJ stepped in and blocked prosecution, abruptly ending a two year investigation.
Chain retailers also aligned with lobbying groups pressuring Congress to pass the 2016 Marino bill. The bill stripped the DEA of its ability to immediately suspend the registration of manufacturers, distributors, or pharmacies.
The first cases to advance against a retailer are set to go to trial in November 2020.
Big Pharmacy Chains Also Fed the Opioid Epidemic, Court Filing Says, New York Times, May 27, 2020
The Drug Industry’s Triumph Over the DEA, The Washington Post, October 15, 2017