Pharmacy chains sue doctors over opioid crisis

Major national drugstore chains are suing physicians in two Ohio counties for allegedly causing the country’s current opioid crisis by excessively prescribing the highly addictive drugs.

The pharmacies — including Walgreen Co., CVS, Walmart and Rite Aid — said in a court filing that doctors are the ones who wrote the prescriptions, so they are the ones who need to be held liable.

The countersuit against doctors adds yet another layer of complexity to an already sprawling federal lawsuit.

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The pharmacies are facing their own lawsuit from Summit and Cuyahoga counties, which is slated to start in October. However, the counties are not suing the doctors in question. In the complaint filed Monday, the companies said if they are found liable for the opioid epidemic, then the doctors should be too.

“While pharmacists are highly trained and licensed professionals … they do not write prescriptions,” attorneys for the pharmacies wrote. 

The attorneys noted the complaint against the pharmacies “fails to identify even one prescription that was supposedly filled improperly by any pharmacist working for any of the Summit County Pharmacy Chains. Not one.”

The pharmacies also noted that the counties did not sue independent drugstores, “pill mills,” internet pharmacies and “unscrupulous pain clinics,” even though they provided more than 40 percent of the opioids dispensed in Cuyahoga County and more than 60 percent of the opioids dispensed in Summit County.

“In a misguided hunt for deep pockets without regard to actual fault or legal liability, Plaintiff has elected not to sue any of these other parties,” the pharmacy chains wrote in the complaint. 

Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said the lawsuit “is required to respond to the unsubstantiated allegations by Plaintiffs that pharmacists should not have filled prescriptions, written by doctors, for FDA-approved opioid medications.”

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Caruso added that the company believes “that the overwhelming majority of prescriptions dispensed were properly prescribed by doctors to meet the legitimate needs of their patients.”

The federal trial involves more than 2,000 cases brought by counties, cities and tribes against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies. They have all been consolidated into a massive “multidistrict litigation” lawsuit in Cleveland as a test of how the plaintiffs’ arguments will fare. The judge has been urging all parties to settle.

The lawsuits are seeking financial compensation for the consequences of the opioid epidemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives since 1999. 

Last year, multiple manufacturers and distributors either settled or were ordered to pay restitution in various verdicts. 

The initial federal trial against six drug distributors and manufacturers ended last October when the final industry defendants agreed to an eleventh-hour settlement. The trial for the pharmacies is slated to begin Oct. 13. 

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In a statement, the attorneys for the initial plaintiffs said there are multiple parties that have contributed to the opioid epidemic. 

“However, we have demonstrated and will continue to show that the origins of the opioid crisis and the fuel that spread the epidemic can be traced back to the behavior and practices of corporations in the drug supply chain. Without widespread wrongdoing by the opioid industry—including pharmacies—we would not be in the place we are today,” the attorneys said.

“Pharmacies saw the devastating consequences of this public health crisis firsthand and we will show they did little to nothing to address them,” they said.”

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