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US: Tennessee sues Walgreens pharmacy chain over opioid distribution

The US state of Tennessee sued retail pharmacy giant Walgreens on Wednesday, accusing the company of fueling the state’s opioid epidemic by willfully flooding the market with an oversupply of prescription narcotics in violation of consumer protection and public nuisance laws.

According to the lawsuit, the company used its position as one of the state’s largest pharmacy chains to dispense over 1.1 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills within Tennessee from 2006 to 2020 , roughly equivalent to 175 tablets for every resident of the state.

“The sheer volume of opioids that Walgreens released into Tennessee was unreasonable and highly suspicious on its face,” the 148-page lawsuit reads. “

The company has been the target of similar lawsuits brought by other jurisdictions.

We will continue to defend against the unjustified attacks on the professionalism of our pharmacists , dedicated health professionals who live in the communities they serve,” the company said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Wednesday. “Walgreens never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the pain clinics and ‘pill mills’ that fueled this crisis.”

The number of opioid related drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed post Covid in the US.

This is due to the increasing prevalence of heroin laced with the deadly synthetic opioid Fentanyl, which is typically shipped in from China, visa vie the US-Mexican border.

— Dominik Andrzejczuk (@QuantumDom) July 31, 2022
According to the lawsuit, Walgreens effectively became part of an “unlawful controlled substance selling scheme” by ignoring numerous signs of suspicious opioid prescription practices.

The suit cited such “red flags” as a lack of individualised dosing; multiple prescriptions for the strongest dose available; many customers with the same diagnosis codes; high percentages of patients paying in cash; customers frequently seeking early refills and travelling long distances to fill prescriptions.

Tennessee’s greatest jump in opioid dispensing, according to the lawsuit, coincided with the years 2006 to 2014 when Walgreens operated as a wholesale distributor for its own pharmacies , thus occupying two rungs of the supply chain.

The ‘Opioid Crisis’
Tennessee, home to nearly seven million residents, has been one of the hardest-hit in the US opioid crisis , documenting at least three opioid-related overdose deaths every day, according to the lawsuit.

The so-called opioid crisis in the US began in the late 1990s when pharmaceutical firms promised the medical community that opioid painkillers would not lead to drug addiction , leading to doctors prescribing them at much greater rates. The widespread misuse of those highly-addictive medications among US citizens resulted in a drastic increase of deaths of overuse in the following years.

As pointed out by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 75 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid.

More than 5,000 Ohioans LOST their lives to a drug overdose last year. Support BOTH prevention and treatment initiatives—that's one of the lessons the state could learn from its lawsuits against the tobacco industry when it comes to the opioid epidemic.

— Community Solutions (@CommunitySols) July 29, 2022
In 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared “a public health emergency and announced a five-point strategy to combat the opioid crisis .”

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