Kentucky sues Walgreens over opioid epidemic

Last Updated Jun 15, 2018 1:46 PM EDT

The state of Kentucky is suing Walgreens Boots Alliance, saying the drugstore chain failed to monitor its own operations that shipped and dispensed large quantities of opioids throughout the state.

The lawsuit filed Thursday by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear alleges Walgreens engaged in unfair, misleading and deceptive business practices by filling huge opioid orders with great frequency, while failing to report suspicious orders to authorities.

In its dual rose as distributor and pharmacy, Walgreens' actions "flooded Kentucky communities with dangerous prescription drugs, directly contributing to the state's drug epidemic," Beshear's office said in a news release

As a distributor, the company has real-time data regarding exact amounts of pills, pill types and customer orders for its store and is legally required to report suspicious orders to the DEA, according to the state AG. The company has distribution centers close to Kentucky's borders in Illinois and Ohio.

As a pharmacy, Walgreens is legally required to monitor and flag suspicious customer prescriptions, such as people traveling long distances to fill prescriptions or doctors prescribing outside the scope of their usual practice, according to Beshear.

"I want to make sure these billion-dollar companies take responsibility and become part of the solution," said Beshear, who noted Walgreens' second-quarter sales exceeded $33 billion.

Kentucky has been especially hard hit by the nationwide opioid epidemic, with more than 1,000 people dying from overdoses in the state in 2016, according to the lawsuit. In 2015, Kentucky had the third-highest drug overdose rate in the country, behind West Virginia and New Hampshire.

In an email, Walgreens declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

The suit is the sixth related to opioids filed by Beshear, and among a slew of litigation filed by cities and states against drug makers and others. 

On Tuesday, Massachusetts filed suit against Purdue Pharma and executives at the OxyContin maker, saying the misled doctors and patients about the risks of opioid-based pain medications.

Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against four drug companies last summer, claiming they marketed their drugs as safe for managing chronic pain while downplaying the risk of addiction. 

Opioids kill more than 100 Americans each day, a crisis that recently led Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies to limit some customers to a seven-day supply.