Kroger, Albertsons, and Rite Aid Latest Pharmacies Under Fire for Their Role in the Opioid Epidemic
“WA attorney general sues Kroger, Albertsons, Rite Aid over opioid crisis.” That is the headline from a December 21st, 2022, news article in the Seattle Times. AG Bob Ferguson filed the suit, insisting pharmacies failed their customers by not preventing the overprescribing of addictive, potent, and potentially deadly opioid painkillers.
Details of the Case
The December 2022 lawsuit is not the first filed by AG Ferguson against pharma giants. The lawsuit represents “…a continuation of efforts by Ferguson and other attorneys general across the country to hold businesses responsible for their roles in allowing prescription opioids to proliferate.” This lawsuit comes on the heels of Washington’s successful settlements with other opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies.
Ferguson argued in this latest lawsuit that, between 2006 and 2021, more than 12,000 Washington residents died of opioid overdoses and that pharmacies played a role in those deaths. Speaking to the severity of the overdose crisis and pharmacies’ role in it, Ferguson said, “During the opioid crisis over the last decade, these companies ignored federal regulations, put profits over safety, and knowingly oversupplied opioids in our state. Washingtonians trust pharmacies to be responsible, and they depend on that for their health. Pharmacies serve an important role as the final barrier to prevent overprescribing controlled substances or any prescription drugs. But that is not what happened in many cases.” According to Ferguson, pharmacies have an obligation to the public to be “gatekeepers” against drug abuse, given that pharmacists know how dangerous prescription drug misuse is and that pharmacists know what overprescription looks like. And according to Ferguson, pharmacies failed in this most crucial mandate.
Unfortunately, Ferguson argues, the three pharmacy chains his office is suing looked past their obligations to the public and instead sought to “prioritize speed and maximize profit.”
- Failed to report suspicious shipments from distributors
- Failed to detect potentially suspicious orders of prescriptions
- Failed to recognize and report internal red flags from prescription monitoring systems
- Failed to see that some of the prescriptions were intended for illegal drug diversion/dealing
- Failed to report individuals who wrote prescriptions without having the proper license to do so
- Failed to detect the presence of doctor shopping and drug-misuse behavior when filling prescriptions
In the lawsuit, Ferguson and his team also pointed out how each of the three pharmacies had previously paid fines for violating federal laws concerning opioid prescriptions. Ferguson’s team argued the previous lawbreaking set the stage for further culpability on the part of the pharmacies. Further, the AG’s lawsuit points out how the pharmacies directly fueled Washington’s illegal drug market by oversupplying drugs.
Previous Lawsuits in Washington Already Producing Results
Shortly after filing suit with Kroger, Albertsons, and Rite Aid, the Office of the Attorney General put out a statement announcing the office had signed multi-state resolutions with three other pharmacies, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, as well as drug manufacturers Teva and Allergan for their role in the opioid epidemic. Such resolutions culminated in a potential $434.4 million settlement to the state of Washington.
The goal is to use the funds from CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Teva, and Allergan to support the communities in Washington most affected by the opioid addiction crisis. The state plans to spend the money on expanding treatment for opioid addiction. Beyond that, the state plans to direct funds to essential services for addicts like housing, transportation, and child care, so those individuals can take the time they need to seek treatment.
While Washington has led the charge in securing legal settlements with pharma giants for their role in promulgating the opioid crisis, it is of the utmost importance that those currently addicted to opioids get qualified, evidence-based help to kick the habit and lead fulfilling, healthy, and long lives.
Legal Victories Won’t Save Those Currently Addicted to Drugs. That’s Why Families of Addicts Must Step In.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington State experienced increased prescription opioid overdose deaths between 2019 and 2020. While illicit synthetic opioids like fentanyl have consumed much of the headlines in recent years, the CDC reports prescription opioids are still a leading cause of death among addicts, especially on the West Coast, in the Midwest, and in the Southeast.
About 44 people die every day from prescription opioid overdoses, approximately 16,000 deaths per year. CDC experts estimated such pharmaceuticals accounted for about 24% of all opioid deaths in 2020, up 16% from 2019. Sadly, Washington State was one of the states hit hardest by this increase.
All told, about 187 people in the U.S. die from opioid-related overdoses daily, which is at least 500% higher than the daily loss of life from opioids 20 years ago. In Washington, the state loses about 22 residents to drug overdoses for every 100,000 people living in the state, a death rate higher than firearm deaths, homicides, or COVID-19 deaths.
It is good news that Washington’s Justice Department is seeking legal action against the multi-billion dollar corporations responsible for creating (and profiting off of) the opioid epidemic. And if the dollars from those settlements provide funds for qualified treatment programs for addicts, that will be a victory too.
But opioid addiction is so dangerous that those currently addicted cannot wait for legal settlements. Opioid addicts need help now. If you know someone addicted to opioids, please help them enter a qualified drug rehab center today. Please don’t wait until it is too late.
- TST. “WA attorney general sues Kroger, Albertsons, Rite Aid over opioid crisis.” The Seattle Times, 2022. seattletimes.com
- WSDOH. “Washington State Opioid and Overdose Response Plan.” Washington State Department of Health and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, 2021. agportal-s3bucket.s3.amazonaws.com
- CDC. “Prescription Opioid Overdose Death Maps.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. cdc.gov
- CDC. “Washington.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. cdc.gov