June 3, 2021 -- The state of Kentucky has filed a lawsuit against CVS, alleging the pharmacy chain was “fueling” the opioid epidemic that has killed hundreds of people in the state.

“During the height of the opioid epidemic, CVS allowed millions of dosage units of opioids to flood Kentucky’s borders, fueling the crisis and devastating thousands of families and communities across the Commonwealth,” Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in a news release.

“As both distributor and pharmacy, CVS was in a unique position to monitor and stop the peddling of these highly-addictive drugs from their stores, yet they ignored their own safeguard systems.”

CVS pharmacies in the state bought more than 151 million dosage units of oxycodone and hydrocodone between 2006 and 2014, accounting for nearly 6.1% of the total doses in Kentucky during that time, Cameron said.

One CVS in Perry County bought more than 6.8 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone from 2006 to 2014, “enough opioids for every man, woman, and child in the county to have over 26 pills every year during the same period,” according to the news release.

In a response reported by NBC News, CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said the company was prepared to defend itself against the allegations.

“Opioids are made and marketed by drug manufacturers, not pharmacies,” he told NBC News in an email.

“Pharmacists dispense opioid prescriptions written by licensed physicians for a legitimate medical need. Pharmacists do not -- and cannot -- write prescriptions. Nor do they -- or can they -- examine patients, conduct tests, diagnose medical conditions, or determine medical treatment. That is the role of physicians, who have the responsibility to write appropriate prescriptions.”

The opioid epidemic has ravaged Kentucky. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the state had the ninth-highest opioid death rate in the United States in 2018 -- 23.4 deaths per 100,000 people. (West Virginia was first, with 42.4.) The state had a prescription rate of 79.5 per 100 people that year -- the second-highest rate in the nation, the institute said. (Tennessee was first, with 81.8 prescriptions per 100 people)

Kentucky has previously filed similar lawsuits against Walgreens and Johnson & Johnson.

Sackler Family May Win Immunity in Opioid Lawsuits

Meanwhile, a bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, has taken a major step toward becoming a reality, NPR reported.

Robert Drain, a judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, says the company’s creditors can vote on the plan this summer.

If approved, members of the Sackler family, some of whom own Purdue Pharma and served on the company's board, could win immunity from future opioid lawsuits, NPR said.

NPR said the immunity would cover dozens of family members, more than 160 financial trusts, and at least 170 companies associated with the Sacklers.

Purdue Pharma filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2019 after numerous states sued over the company’s aggressive sales practices. 

NPR said the attorneys general for two dozen states still oppose the bankruptcy deal.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

SOURCES:

Kentucky.gov: “Attorney General Cameron Sues CVS for Company’s Role in Opioid Epidemic.”

NBC News: “Kentucky sues CVS, accuses company of 'fueling' opioid crisis by turning blind eye.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Opioid Summaries by State.”

NPR: “Sackler Family Empire Poised to Win Immunity From Opioid Lawsuits.”

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