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Walmart And Pharmacy Retailers Face Federal Lawsuit Over Opioid Crisis

Plaintiffs are suing for billions of dollars in restitution against Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS retailers for their role in the opioid epidemic. The chain pharmacies and superstores have been named in a major lawsuit filed in federal court on Friday, July 19, regarding corporate complicity in the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit is among 2,000 individual cases brought against corporations by counties, cities, and Native American tribes across the U.S. where opioid addiction has caused high death tolls. The federal lawsuit is expected to go to trial October 2019 and is expected to be the biggest civil trial in U.S. history.

Vox reports that the lawsuit is the climax in a years-long public reckoning over the suffering and havoc the opioid epidemic has wreaked on the country. Every day, over 130 people die from opioid-related overdoses.

The prescription opioid mortality rate between 1999 and 2017 was 218,000. And between 2010 and 2015, parental drug abuse accounted for 24.5% of child removals from homes in just the state of Kentucky.

Unfortunately, Maryland isn’t any safer with a record number of people dying from opioid overdose in 2018. Maryland is considered one of the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths, according to the NIDA.

Opioids are incredibly addictive because they’re capable of releasing a surge of endorphins. Endorphins are one of the brain’s four feel-good neurotransmitters, which also include serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine (produced when exercising or doing puzzles). This surge of endorphins can cause the brain to compulsively want the substance that caused them, leading to addiction.

The opioid crisis was declared a public emergency in 2017. But this is the first legal action that’s been taken against drugstores and retailers that distribute painkillers since the emergency was declared. Purdue Pharma, a major pharmaceutical company, has been facing litigation from nearly every state for its painkiller production.

The federal lawsuit seeks to hold retail sellers of painkillers accountable for not following federal law, which mandates pharmacies to inform the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of suspicious orders.

According to The New York Times, a 2011 incident in which a Walgreens shipped an order of 3,271 bottles of oxycodone to a Florida town of 2,831 people. The same Walgreens also shipped another large order to the same Florida town a month later. The state of Florida wrote 83.5 opioid prescriptions per every 100 people in 2011.

“Walgreens pharmacists are highly trained professionals committed to dispensing legitimate prescriptions that meet the needs of our patients,” said Phil Caruso, the spokesperson for Walgreens.

“Walgreens has not distributed prescription controlled substances since 2014 and before that time only distributed to our chain of pharmacies,” Caruso said. “Walgreens has been an industry leader in combating this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work.”

Walmart is being sued for not enacting policy to monitor its suspicious orders prior to 2011 and not properly training its employees. CVS and Rite Aid submitted court filings saying that no evidence has been delivered by the case’s plaintiffs that linked the retail stores’ opioid distribution with the opioid crisis.

Rite Aid’s most recent full-year revenue was $21.6 billion and CVS reported a revenue of $194.6 billion in 2018. Walgreens, which began its next-day prescription delivery with FedEx in 2018 to compete with Amazon’s online pharmacy PillPack (93% of online experiences start with search engines and Amazon is one of the top online retailers after Walmart) reported $131.5 billion in revenue that year. It’s important to note that in some cases, overnight or 2-day delivery may be 50% or more than the usual delivery fee.

Walmart, the world’s largest online and offline retailer with 11,300 stores globally, saw a revenue of $500.3 billion in 2018.