A Kentucky lawsuit against Walgreens claims the chain played a significant role in the local opioid epidemic.


Thursday’s complaint, filed by Attorney General Andy Beshear, says that the retailer used “unlawful business practices” to fuel the epidemic in Kentucky. The AG says that for more than ten years, Walgreens willingly filled large amounts of opioids as both a wholesaler and pharmacy, which should have been a red flag for the business. Instead of reporting the suspicious prescriptions, the pharmacy chose to continue filling “massive” and “suspicious” orders of opioids – which the state believes made their way into the streets and the hands of drug dealers, causing much pain and suffering throughout Kentucky.

The state explains in its lawsuit that Walgreens played a “dual role” as both a distributor and dispenser of opioid prescriptions, and accuses the company of willfully ignoring their systems meant to prevent abuses. These safeguards were put in place to help consumers by monitoring prescription usage, potentially alerting pharmacists to duplicate or excessive prescriptions for individuals. Ideally, this would help pharmacists in turn alert doctors to patients at risk for an opioid use disorder. Instead, this system in place was ignored, contributing to the nearly 43,000 deaths recorded in Kentucky in 2016.

Walgreens stores dispensed opioids at “such an alarming rate and volume that there could be no legitimate medical purpose associated to their use,” according to the complaint. Also, it states that “unfair, misleading and deceptive business practices by Walgreens for excessively distributing and dispensing opioids in Kentucky and for failing to legally report to state and federal authorities the suspiciously large orders it received for prescription opioids.”

In addition to a monetary outcome, AG Beshear says wants Walgreens to stop “over-dispensing opioids” and “filling suspicious orders.” He also wants the company to pay back the amount it earned from the allegedly illegal gains.

In Kentucky, the opioid epidemic has hit residents hard; in fact, it was among top ten states with opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016, with a rate of 23.6 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Walgreens operates 70 pharmacy locations in Kentucky. This lawsuit is the sixth opioid-related suit Beshear has filed, and across the US, municipalities, counties, and states have filed similar actions against opioid manufacturers. Much of the money recovered from these lawsuits, if successful, go towards fighting the opioid epidemic through treatment, prevention, and other initiatives.