Tennessee’s attorney general said Wednesday he sued Walgreens, accusing the drugstore chain of contributing to the state’s opioid crisis by failing to maintain effective controls against the abuse of prescription painkillers.
The lawsuit seeking unspecified civil penalties was filed in Knox County Circuit Court by Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III and alleges violations of Tennessee consumer protection law.
The lawsuit said that between 2006 and 2020, Walgreens Tennessee retail stores dispensed more than 1.1 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills. A single pharmacy in Jamestown dispensed enough opioids during this period to supply each resident with 2,104 pills.
“Walgreens did not flood the state of Tennessee with opioids by accident,” Slatery said in a statement. “Rather, the fuel Walgreens added to the fire of the opioid epidemic was the result of conscious — or willfully ignorant — corporate decisions. Walgreens ignored many red flags and failed to detect and prevent the abuse and diversion of dangerous narcotics.
In a statement late Wednesday, Walgreens said it “has never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor have we distributed them to the pain clinics and ‘pill mills’ that have fueled this crisis. .
“We will continue to defend ourselves against unwarranted attacks on the professionalism of our pharmacists, dedicated healthcare professionals who live in the communities they serve.”
The lawsuit said Walgreens created a public nuisance and for years failed to exercise due diligence or train its pharmacists on how to recognize suspicious opioid abuse and diversion activity. The suit said Tennessee Walgreens pharmacies dispensed opioids to patients in at least 31 different states.
From June 2013 to March 2014, Walgreens pharmacies in Tennessee dispensed 103,000 pills prescribed by a Germantown obstetrician. Nearly 20% of those involved out-of-state patients, according to the lawsuit.
Walgreens filled many opioid prescriptions for children as young as 2 years old. A dentist for Erin wrote such a prescription that was 2.5 times the maximum recommended daily dose of opioids for an adult, according to the lawsuit.
The epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the United States over the past two decades.
State and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and other entities have filed more than 3,000 lawsuits regarding the opioid epidemic in state and federal courts.
Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson finalized a $5 billion nationwide settlement earlier this year. National drug delivery companies AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson have finalized one worth $21 billion. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is trying to persuade a court to let it go ahead with a deal that could include up to $6 billion from Sackler family members.
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