Florida Sues CVS, Walgreens For Their Alleged Roles In Opioid Crisis

By Paul Gaita 11/20/18

The suit claims that the companies failed to stop "suspicious orders of opioids," and dispensed "unreasonable quantities" of such drugs.

CVS and Walgreens are being sued for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic

The state of Florida has named two of the largest drugstore chains in the United States—Walgreens and CVS—as well as Insys Therapeutics, in a lawsuit that alleged that they "played a role in creating the opioid crisis."

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a press release stating that the pharmacy giants and Insys, which manufactured the fentanyl-based medication Subsys had been added to a state-court lawsuit filed on May 15, 2016 against Purdue Pharma, L.P.—the manufacturer of OxyContin—and other pharmaceutical manufacturers for allegedly contributing to the opioid epidemic with their opioid-based products.

The suit against CVS and Walgreens alleges that the companies failed to stop "suspicious orders of opioids," and dispensed "unreasonable quantities" of such drugs from their locations.

In the complaint, the Attorney General's Office alleged that Walgreens Co.—the largest drugstore chain in the nation—has distributed vast amounts of opioids throughout the state of Florida, and in some cases, reportedly distributed millions of pills that far outnumbered town populations.

The suit cites an unidentified Florida town where the Walgreens location is alleged to have sold 285,000 pills in a single month to a town with just 3,000 people.

According to the suit, some stores reportedly experienced six-fold sales growth for pills in just two years time. Walgreens previously paid a record settlement of $80 million in 2013 for violations of record-keeping and dispensing regulations that allowed oxycodone and other pain medications to be diverted for black market sales.

The accusations against CVS Healthcare Corp. and CVS Pharmacy, Inc.—the second largest U.S. drugstore chain—claim that the company sold more than 700 million opioid products between 2006 and 2014, including three towns that received and dispensed "huge quantities" of opioids during that time frame.

CVS also paid $22 million to resolve allegations by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that retail stores in the town of Sanford, Florida sold painkillers that were not prescribed for "legitimate medical purposes."

The suit's allegations against Insys Therapeutics echo similar charges levied against the troubled pharmaceutical firm, which has been accused of paying doctors to prescribe Subsys, a medication for patients with breakthrough cancer pain, to patients without cancer or similar diagnoses.

The suit cites public records that showed that Insys paid $18.7 million to doctors between August 2013 and December 2016, including one Florida physician who received $270,000 from the company.

According to data from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, more prescriptions for Subsys were written in Florida than in any other state.

A spokesperson for CVS labeled the lawsuit "without merit" and said that in recent years, the company "has taken numerous actions to strengthen our existing safeguards to help address the nation's opioid epidemic."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.