Kentucky's Attorney General announced on Thursday that the state is suing the pharmacy chain Walgreens for allegedly exacerbating the "man-made" opioid crisis, by playing a dual role in in the supply chain as both the distributor and dispenser.
The lawsuit also asserts the company willfully ignored its own safeguard systems that are designed to protect consumers and monitor their drug consumption.
The lawsuit, filed in Boone County, claims parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance fulfilled orders "for such large quantities of prescription narcotic pain medication that there could be no associated legitimate medical purpose for their use."
Attorney General Andy Beshear accused the company, which operates 70 retail pharmacy locations within the state, of turning a blind eye to a deadly health crisis its deceptive business practices helped create — all while profiting immensely.
"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," Beshear said in a statement. "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 region has been devastated by the influx of drugs that Beshear said have contributed to the loss of loss of jobs and productivity, and life.
Officials with Walgreens, the second-largest pharmacy company in the country, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Each year since 2014, more than a thousand Kentucky residents have died from drug overdoses, according to the CDC. Nationally, the agency reported approximately 66 percent of the more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved an opioid. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
Pharmacies licensed in the state are equipped to monitor real-time data regarding exact amounts of pills, pill dosages and types, and customer orders, and they are required to report suspicious orders of Schedule II drugs, including opioids, to the DEA. They also are obligated to flag unusual orders, including those in which customers travel long distances to fill a prescription, or "doctors prescribing outside the scope of their usual practice." The lawsuit alleges that Walgreens has failed to adequately take these actions.
The state is seeking to stop Walgreens from over-prescribing opioids or filling suspect orders placed by its pharmacies. It also is demanding to hold the company financially accountable for the array of state services associated with prescription drug abuse.
The lawsuit states:
"Kentucky's response to the health emergency created by Defendants includes providing or reimbursing for medical treatment; shouldering the increased financial burden of public health insurance; dispatching emergency services; investigating and prosecuting increased drug-related crimes; incarcerating perpetrators; supervising and rehabilitating the addicted; preventing, investigating, and treating overdoses; providing foster care for children whose parents are in prison or dead from overdosing, or simply cannot care for them due to addiction; assembling necessary response teams; and tending to the infirm, dying, and deceased. Moreover, additional services have been needed, due to the substantial increase in babies being born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) addicted to opioids."
According to the complaint, Walgreens' sales topped $33 billion in the second quarter of this year.
This is the sixth opioid-related lawsuit filed by Beshear, according to the statement. The Kentucky suit is the latest in a string of complaints filed by state attorneys general against drugmakers and distributors.
Just last month, Florida filed an action against several manufacturers. In January, Delaware filed a similar lawsuit that names CVS and Walgreens, among others. The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma has also accused drugmakers and retailers of flooding tribal lands with opioids.
Some of the nation's largest pharmacy retailers recently have implemented new restrictions intended to stem the spread of opioid addiction, prevent overdoses and curb over-prescribing by doctors.
Last month Walmart instituted a seven-day cap on acute painkiller prescriptions and limited the daily dose to no more than the equivalent of 50 milligrams of morphine. That followed a similar initiative by CVS, which went into effect in February.