Walgreens ‘Helped Fuel’ Opioid Crisis in San Francisco, Says Judge

This appears to another “bench trial – no jury “, in a FEDERAL COURT – where historically anyone taken to a federal court – 90+% are found guilty. It is also odd that they claim that Walgreens “shipped” 1 out of every 5 Oxycodone & Hydrocodone doses nationally and yet Walgreen has/had about 10,000 community pharmacies out of a total of abt 50,000 community pharmacies.  None of the filled opiate Rxs were illegal prescriptions.

I find it strange that they are going after Walgreen and does not appear to be going after even the FIRST PHARMACIST for filling any of these opiate Rxs. With 10,000 pharmacies, Walgreen could have some 30,000 pharmacists working for them.  Legally, it is the Pharmacist that has the final say if a Rx is legit and should – or should not – be filled.  I guess that it was going to be a very expensive going after all/some of those 30,000 Pharmacists for filling these opiate Rxs… with little financial rewards to the bureaucrats… So they went after the single entity with the deepest pockets.  They state in the article that Walgreen paid a 80 million dollar fine to the DEA almost 10 yrs ago…  So that didn’t cause any real visible financial harm to Walgreen with that large fine… so it would seem like the bureaucrats and our legal system appear to be treating the corporations involved in opiate manufacturing and distribution like ATM machines that they can come and “withdrawal” money every decade or so.  They don’t want to run them out of business, too many people would be harmed from employees of these corporations to pts that are be taken care of by these corporations and there is not enough reserve capacity available to absorb and take care of all the people who would basically be tossed to the curb.  Besides, that could possibly mean that is one last corporation they come after every decade or so .. to extract money from.

Walgreens ‘Helped Fuel’ Opioid Crisis in San Francisco, Says Judge

https://reason.com/2022/08/11/walgreens-helped-fuel-opioid-crisis-in-san-francisco-says-judge/

Is Walgreens an illicit drug dealer? That’s essentially what a federal court has ruled, suggesting the pharmacy should have stopped “suspicious orders” for opioids from being filled. In failing to do so, the retailer “substantially contributed” to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco, Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled.

Walgreens was “responsible for shipping nearly 1 out of every 5 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed nationwide during the height of the opioid crisis,” reports The Washington Post. And “more than 100 million prescription opioid pills were dispensed by Walgreens in [San Francisco] between 2006 and 2020,notes the Los Angeles Times.

Walgreens isn’t accused of filling fake prescriptions; the opioid orders it filled were written by licensed doctors. But some of these doctors had “suspect prescribing patterns,” noted Breyer. And other orders were written by doctors who would go on to have their licenses revoked or face criminal punishment. The judge agreed with the city and county of San Francisco, which brought the suit, that Walgreens pharmacists were negligent in not realizing something was afoot and therefore illegally contributed to a public nuisance. A trial will be held to determine damages owed.

“The effects of the opioid epidemic on San Francisco have been catastrophic. The city has fought hard and continues to do so, but the opioid epidemic, which Walgreens helped fuel, continues to substantially interfere with public rights in San Francisco,” Breyer wrote.

This seems, frankly, insane. Walgreens fills prescriptions. It is not in the business of drug enforcement. If some of the prescriptions filled by Walgreens were written by dirty doctors or went to people who abused them, it is not on individual pharmacists to figure that out.

Expecting pharmacists to be drug cops, too, ensures that more pharmacies will be hesitant to fill legitimate prescriptions, leaving patients in the lurch. It also threatens to worsen America’s pharmacist shortage.

In a number of recent cases, pharmacies and pharmacists have been sued for not filling prescriptions. including opioid prescriptions. It seems we’ve put them in a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

This isn’t the first time Walgreens has been found guilty of opioid crimes. Last fall, a federal court in Ohio found CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart guilty of ignoring “red flags” about opioid prescriptions and thereby contributing to a “public nuisance.”

In 2013, Walgreens had to pay $80 million in civil penalties after the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it was negligent in filling narcotic prescriptions.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, pharmacies are required to have systems in place to monitor for suspicious orders. And Walgreens did. But the DEA—and now Breyer—say Walgreens’ policies weren’t sufficient.

The case showcases yet another bananas aspect of America’s war on drugs.

To sum it up: Walgreens filled prescriptions for a legal substance, but because some people went on to distribute or use the drugs in ways the government has forbidden, the company has to pay the government huge sums of money. Meanwhile, the inability of people to get prescription painkillers has given way to reliance on much more dangerous substances, like fentanyl, from which many more people are dying of overdoses. People keep taking opioids, and the government keeps making it harder for them to do so safely.

“These cases, along with thousands of other lawsuits by state and local governments that blame legal drug suppliers for opioid-related addiction and deaths, ask courts to focus on one link in a long causal chain,” noted Reason’s Jacob Sullum last November. “That chain includes decisions by state and federal regulators as well as actions by manufacturers, distributors, doctors, pharmacists, patients, black-market dealers who sell diverted pills, and nonmedical users who consume them.”

“We never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis,” said Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman in a statement yesterday. “The plaintiff’s attempt to resolve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law is misguided and unsustainable. We look forward to the opportunity to address these issues on appeal.”

2 Responses

  1. Great article. Steve, all your points make logical sense. The SEC is doing the same thing with cryptocurrencies. And soon, since they are trying to double the number of IRS agents and arm them, thinking that they will be doing this to each and every one of the middle class (us) in the future as well. Call this government overreach with low hanging fruit everywhere to grab and pocket. What can we do as citizens and pharmacists in our country to push back?

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