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Florida added Walgreens and CVS to the lawsuit it filed last spring against Purdue Pharma and several opioid distributors. Attorney General Pam Bondi claims these chains played a major role in creating the opioid crisis that has rocked not only Florida, but most of the Eastern United States by allowing its pharmacists to fill suspicious or unreasonable opioid prescriptions.
The opioid crisis is still in full swing. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 45 people each day die from opioid overdoses. But how can that be tied to Walgreens and CVS? The circumstantial evidence is quite compelling. The lawsuit states that Walgreens distributed 2.2 million opioid tablets in just one month from its Hudson store, located in a town of just 12,000 inhabitants.
And there are other Florida Walgreens with similar ratios, including some whose opioid sales have jumped six-fold over the last two years. CVS numbers aren't as convincing, but it too has disproportionate sales in the town of Hudson. The concept is that drug dealers would send associates to get prescriptions for opioids from local doctors, get them filled, and then sell the pills on the black market through a distribution system that spans the eastern states. Shockingly, at one point in the early 2000's, 90 percent of the nation's top opioid prescribing doctors were from Florida.
In 2013, Walgreens paid $80 million in fines to resolve a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) inquiry into its "unprecedented number" of inadequate record keeping and dispensing violation of opioid sales in its Florida pharmacies. CVS faced a similar problem with the DEA in 2015, and agreed to pay $22 million. It is believed that because inadequate records were kept, pharmacists were not able to abide by the law, which states that pharmacists must refuse to fill prescriptions they suspect are for an invalid purpose, such as being resold on the black market.
Though Walgreens hasn't commented on the suit, CVS has stated there's no way they are responsible. "Over the past several years, CVS has taken numerous actions to strengthen our existing safeguards to help address the nation's opioid epidemic," CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis said. The company claims it has trained its pharmacists to detect potentially illegal sales and has instructed them on their corresponding legal responsibility.
Stay tuned to find out if more companies will be added to this lawsuit, and if further evidence will come to light tying a firmer causal connection between plaintiffs and the opioid crisis.
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