Walgreens is responsible for providing medicine to a significant portion of the population. As one of the largest drugstore chains in the U.S., the company filled around 827.5 million prescriptions in 2021 alone. But Walgreens’ substantial presence in the medicine market means the company is more likely to be called out for concerning practices. Now, Walgreens is under fire for issues concerning the distribution of one medication in particular. Read on to find out why the company has been called “highly suspicious” in a new lawsuit.
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As one of the nation’s largest medicine distributors, Walgreens has certainly faced controversy over medication before.
Back in June, the drugstore chain was named alongside CVS in a Missouri lawsuit. Walgreens and CVS were sued over claims that both companies failed to warn consumers about the risks of prenatal exposure to the medication paracetamol, which is also known as acetaminophen, often sold as Tylenol.
Then just last month, shoppers began threatening to boycott Walgreens over reports that certain employees had been refusing to fill birth control prescriptions for some customers. The company confirmed that its has a policy that allows pharmacists to “step away” from filling certain prescriptions when they have a moral objection.
Now, Walgreens is facing repercussions over a medication that a new lawsuit claims was distributed too frequently.
The state of Tennessee is now suing Walgreens over the sale of opioids, Reuters reported. The lawsuit was filed in Knox County Circuit Court by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III on Aug. 3 and alleges that Walgreens has violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by failing to control its distribution of prescription pain medication.
“The sheer volume of opioids that Walgreens released into Tennessee was unreasonable and highly suspicious on its face,” the lawsuit states. “Walgreens utterly saturated the state of Tennessee with narcotics.”
Walgreens dispensed more than 1.1 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills within Tennessee from 2006 to 2020, which is equivalent to about 175 tablets for each resident in the state, according to the lawsuit. The suit also claims that in the city of Jamestown, one of the company’s pharmacies distributed enough opioids alone in that same time period to supply each of the area’s residents with 2,104 pills, per ABC News.
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Amid the ongoing opioid crisis, Slatery’s lawsuit notes that Tennessee has been one of the hardest-hit states, reporting at least three opioid-related overdose deaths each day. According to the suit, Walgreens became a large part of an “unlawful controlled substance selling scheme” by ignoring numerous “red flags” for suspicious opioid prescription practices. These include a “lack of individualized 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 customers traveling long distances to fill prescriptions,” according to Reuters.
“Walgreens did not flood the state of Tennessee with opioids by accident,” the lawsuit says. “Rather, the fuel that Walgreens added to the fire of the opioid epidemic was the result of knowing—or willfully ignorant—corporate decisions.”
This is not the first state that has sued Walgreens over the sale of opioids. Back in May, the company reached a $683 million settlement with Florida after the state filed a lawsuit against Walgreens for exacerbating its own opioid crisis. But pursuant to the settlement agreement, the company included no admission of wrongdoing or liability.
Walgreens is similarly defending itself against the new Tennessee lawsuit. “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 to Reuters. “Walgreens never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the pain clinics and ‘pill mills’ that fueled this crisis.”