Florida Brings Lawsuit Against CVS, Walgreens for Alleged Role in Opioid Crisis

Are retail pharmacies really to blame for the opioid crisis?
Florida Brings Lawsuit Against CVS, Walgreens for Alleged Role in Opioid Crisis
Leigh A. Williams/ Shutterstock

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced last week that she is suing retail pharmacies CVS and Walgreens for their alleged role in the nationwide opioid crisis. The two companies have been added to a lawsuit filed by the state in May against Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, and several pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.

Bondi said in a press release on Friday that she will hold accountable firms that profit from the country’s ongoing epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths caused by opioid painkillers.

“We will continue to pursue those companies that played a role in creating the opioid crisis,” Bondi said. “Thousands of Floridians have suffered as a result of the actions of the defendants.”

In an amended complaint filed in the lawsuit, the attorney general’s office alleges that CVS and Walgreens were two of the largest distributors of opioids in the state and that the companies failed in their responsibility under Florida law to stop suspicious orders for the drugs. The suit also alleges that Walgreens and CVS dispensed unreasonable quantities of opioids from their pharmacies.

Billions of Pills Dispensed

According to the amended complaint, since 2006 Walgreens has dispensed billions of opioid pills from its Florida pharmacies. At one store near Tampa in Hudson, Florida, a town of 12,000 residents, Walgreens distributed 2.2 million opioid tablets. In another unidentified town with a population of only 3,000, a Walgreen’s pharmacy sold 285,000 pills in just one month. In some of the company’s pharmacies in Florida, sales of the powerful and highly addictive painkillers increased by six times in only two years.

Walgreens said in a statement on Saturday that the company does not comment on pending lawsuits, according to media reports. In 2013, the company paid $80 million to resolve a federal investigation into its inadequate record-keeping practices in Florida that allowed opioids to enter the black market. Illinois-based Walgreens is the nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain and has more than 13,200 locations worldwide.

The complaint against CVS says that between 2006 and 2014, the company sold 700 million opioid doses in Florida. The attorney general alleges unusually high quantities of the drugs distributed in Hudson and two other towns nearby. CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in a statement on Saturday that the lawsuit is without merit. He said that the company trains its pharmacy employees in the proper dispensing of controlled substances and has given them tools to help them determine when sales might violate the law.

“Over the past several years, CVS has taken numerous actions to strengthen our existing safeguards to help address the nation’s opioid epidemic,” DeAngelis said.

CVS, headquartered in Rhode Island, has more than 9,800 stores and is the largest retail pharmacy in the United States.

Kickbacks to Doctors Also Alleged

The amended complaint also adds specialty pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics to the lawsuit filed in May. The attorney general alleges that Insys paid doctors in Florida kickbacks to write prescriptions for its fentanyl sublingual spray Subsys.

The original complaint named opioid manufacturers Purdue, Endo, Janssen, Cephalon, and Allergan, and distributors AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, Cardinal, and Mallinckrodt as defendants in the suit.

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