July 5, 2022
This week, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state of Utah against pharmaceutical retailers Walgreens, Smith’s/Kroger, and Rite-Aid, claiming the companies improperly distributed prescription pain medication and actively exacerbated the opioid crisis.
The lawsuit states that the pharmacies “deliberately disregarded their duties to maintain effective controls against diversion” and “created an abatable public nuisance.” The lawsuit asks for payment for the reduction of opioid use disorder and to pay damages as required.
Among the claims in the lawsuit: Some Walgreens stores were receiving so many deliveries from manufacturers that the stores ran out of space, forcing them to store boxes in unsecured locations. The suit says the corporate office was receiving “bonuses” and “incentives” based on the number and speed of prescriptions filled.
Smith’s/Kroger failed to report suspicious orders or otherwise control the supply of opioids flowing into Utah. The suit also claims Kroger knew that people were traveling long distances to see prescribers or fill prescriptions; prescriptions were filled for drug “cocktails” known for their misuse potentials, such as oxycodone and benzodiazepine; and customers were receiving multiple prescriptions and paying for them in cash. The suit says Kroger ignored these obvious red flags.
For example, a store in Price, a city of 8,216 people, had a higher-than-average amount of pills purchased. All told, it bought enough oxycodone and hydrocodone over seven years to supply 71 pills per person in the community.
Chain pharmacies act as both self-distributors and the last link in the opioid supply chain and serve a critical gatekeeping role between dangerous opioid narcotics and the public. The suit claims they failed in that role. Yet instead of using the information they had to maintain effective controls against diversion, Defendants abdicated their responsibility to protect the public.”
Finally, the suit alleges that the companies worked together to increase profits and lobby against restrictions to use and enforcement. It notes, “…the financial cost to address this crisis has been and will be, staggering. The costs are borne by the State and other governmental entities (taxpayers).”