Thursday, June 21, 2018 by Tracey Watson
On October 26, 2017, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, and with good reason: Overdoses linked to opioid abuse are the leading cause of death among Americans younger than 50, killing over 64,000 people in 2016 – more than either gun or vehicle accident deaths, and taking lives at a faster pace than HIV did at its worst.
It is estimated that over 80 percent of heroin users started out addicted to opioids, which are over-prescribed in the United States as pain management tools to people who often have no idea just how quickly they can become addicted to them. Since opioids like oxycontin and fentanyl are costly, addicts often switch to another opioid – heroin – to get the same high at a much lower cost. And then thousands overdose and die each year.
The opioid epidemic has flourished as pharmaceutical producers and dispensaries have stubbornly looked the other way, happy to make huge amounts of money off the suffering of others.
For meaningful progress to be made in stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic, these mercenary companies have to start feeling the pressure where it hurts them most: in their pockets. And that is exactly what Kentucky’s attorney general, Andy Beshear, has been doing since taking office in January 2016.
Beshear recently filed his sixth lawsuit against a pharma giant when he went after Walgreens earlier this month for its “dual role as distributor and pharmacy in allegedly failing to legally monitor its own operations that shipped and dispensed large quantities of opioids through its more than 70 locations statewide.” (Related: America’s opioid epidemic is killing so many people that medical examiners can’t keep up with the body count.)
Beshear alleges that Walgreens is particularly reprehensible when it comes to the opioid epidemic, because it is both a distributor and pharmacy, making it doubly responsible for contributing to the massive amounts of opioids flooding the market in Kentucky. The lawsuit, filed by Beshear in Boone Circuit Court, accuses the company of “unfair, misleading and deceptive business practices” for its excessive distribution and indiscriminate dispensing of opioids across the state.
As a distributor, the company has real-time data regarding exact amounts of pills, pill types and customer orders for its store and is legally required to report suspicious orders to the DEA. The company has distribution centers close to Kentucky’s borders in Illinois and Ohio.
As a pharmacy, it is legally required to monitor and flag suspicious customer prescriptions, such as individuals traveling long distances to fill prescriptions or doctors prescribing outside the scope of their usual practice.
Beshear believes that Walgreens has failed spectacularly in its responsibilities both as a distributor and as a pharmacy.
“As Attorney General, my job is to hold accountable anyone who harms our families,” he said. “While Walgreens’ slogan was ‘at the corner of happy and healthy,’ they have significantly harmed the health of our families in fueling the opioid epidemic. While the pain of addiction and loss of a loved one may never heal, I want to make sure these billion dollar companies take responsibility and become a part of the solution.”
The lawsuit against Walgreens is the sixth attack Beshear has launched against pharmaceutical companies directly implicated in the opioid epidemic. Late last year, Beshear’s office filed suit against Endo Pharmaceuticals for its Opana ER drug, which he believes directly contributed to the number of opioid and opioid-related overdose deaths in the state. (Related: Antidepressants the new opioids? Tens of millions of Americans are taking them, and many can’t quit.)
Beshear has also gone after four national opioid distributors – AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation and Johnson and Johnson – for their contributions toward the state’s opioid crisis. (Related: For more about the national opioid crisis visit Opioids.news.)
Beshear said his main priority is to make sure these drug companies are hauled into a Kentucky court and held accountable to those they have harmed – the people of Kentucky.
Looks like he’s on the right track.