Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull Counties have splashed a whole lot of more legal hurt on big pharmacy chains like Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, and CVS—companies that were already wading knee deep in opioid lawsuits.

On May 27, 2020, Lake and Trumbull Counties filed new lawsuits against the nation’s big pharmacy chains. This lawsuit pulls the companies much deeper into a thickening stew of claims aimed at holding a medley of corporations accountable for the country’s current opioid epidemic. In the new filings, the counties target pharmacy franchises for manipulating their distribution systems and dispensaries to serve desperate addicts.

The lawsuit puts these organizations on par with drug manufacturers for their roles in facilitating opioid addictions. In support of this argument, the claim presents the following facts:

  • The pharmacies named in the suit operated 31 pharmacies in Lake County (population 220,000) and sold the equivalent of 290 doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone for every resident of the county from 2006 to 2014.
  • The chains ran 28 pharmacies in Trumbull County from 2006 to 2014, during which time they sold the equivalent of 322 doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone for every county resident.
  • Walgreens and CVS policed their own orders for drugs they received from distributors AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, respectively.
  • CVS and OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma sold pharmacists on the safety of the addictive drug via pain management seminars.
  • Motivated by bonuses for locations that yielded the greatest productivity, a Painesville, Ohio-based Rite Aid sold 4.2 million hydrocodone and oxycodone doses between 2006 and 2014—for a town with 19,524 people.
  • CVS penned letters to patients spurring them to continue refilling their prescriptions for an extremely potent formulation of the opioid oxymorphone (Opana ER), which in 2017 the FDA requested be removed from the market due to abuse patterns.
  • Walmart crafted a workaround for a Federal law that requires drug retailers to report suspiciously large orders of drugs to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
  • Regional distribution centers did little to enforce monitoring protocols and increased thresholds for order quantities that would have otherwise required flagging.
  • Chains ordered pharmacists to always honor doctors’ prescriptions.
  • Warnings of pill mill doctors were ignored.
  • Neither CVS nor Walmart reported any suspicious pill orders in their Ohio locations between 2007 and 2014, despite three Walmart locations selling 6.4 million pills between 2006 and 2014.

These claims arise from evidence already gathered for the federal opioid legal action. One can expect more evidence to arise from future discovery.

Earlier Legal Actions Involving Pharmacies and Opioids

Previously, Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit Counties filed lawsuits against large, chain drugstores. These claims allege that pharmacies used their roles as distributors to facilitate the swelling of opioid abuse and addiction to levels deemed to be a national crisis. This federal opioid trial is scheduled for November 9, 2020, according to Cleveland.com.

As of October 2019, these counties had reached settlement agreements with drug manufacturers and distributors in excess of $325 million.

West Virginia Files Suit, Too

On June 4, 2020, West Virginia sued Walgreens and Rite Aid Corp. for allegedly facilitating the clearing of suspicious orders for opioids throughout the state, reported Bloomberg

Stay tuned for continuous updates on these and other legal actions that commit to holding manufacturers and an entire supply chain of distributors accountable for the U.S. opioid epidemic.

Sara Stephens is a freelance writer who has developed a hefty portfolio of work across several industries, with a strong emphasis on law, technology, and marketing. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, as well as various technology and consumer publications, both print and online. Sara also works as a freelance book editor, having developed and edited manuscripts for bestselling and novice authors alike, and as a verbal strategist for a Miami branding consultancy.