Kentucky accuses CVS Health of fueling opioid crisis in new lawsuit

Kentucky accuses CVS Health of fueling opioid crisis in new lawsuit
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Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) is accusing CVS Health of “fueling” the opioid crisis in the state in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.  

Cameron sued the health care company in Franklin Circuit Court, alleging that its “unlawful business practices” and failure to “guard against diversion" of opioids contributed to Kentucky’s epidemic. 

The lawsuit said CVS pharmacies in Kentucky bought more than 151 million dosage units of oxycodone and hydrocodone from its own distribution centers and third-party distributors between 2006 and 2014, amounting to almost 6.1 percent of the dosage units in the state at the time. 

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“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,” Cameron said in a statement.  

“By bringing this lawsuit on behalf of the people of Kentucky, we are holding CVS accountable for these decisions and for contributing to a man-made crisis that tragically led to the loss of life of thousands of Kentuckians,” he added. 

Cameron specifically highlighted two CVS stores, including one in Perry County that bought more than 6.8 million dosage units of oxycodone and hydrocodone between 2006 and 2014. That would be enough for every county resident to have 26 pills every year.

Another CVS in Crittenden County purchased more than 2.8 million dosage units, amounting to enough for every person to have more than 34 pills annually, according to the lawsuit.  

CVS did not report any suspicious orders for its Kentucky stores between 2007 and 2014. The following year, drug overdoses reached more than 59 percent of the state’s accidental deaths. 

The lawsuit also alleges CVS “improperly normalized the widespread use of opioids” through its participation in marketing and advertising of opioid products, including with manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Endo Pharmaceuticals. 

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CVS Health told The Hill in a statement that it’s ready to defend against the lawsuit’s allegations. 

“Opioids are made and marketed by drug manufacturers, not pharmacies,” the statement said. “Pharmacists dispense opioid prescriptions written by licensed physicians for a legitimate medical need. Pharmacists do not — and cannot — write prescriptions.”

The health care company said it has invested in fighting opioid misuse and abuse through educational programs, safe medication disposal sites and increased access to overdose reversal drugs.  

Former Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D), who is now the governor, filed a similar lawsuit against Walgreens in 2018 saying the company made the epidemic worse. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse ranked Kentucky ninth for the most opioid deaths in 2018 in the latest available data, with 23.4 fatalities per 100,000 people. It also had the fourth most opioid prescriptions, with 79.5 per 100 people. 

The Bluegrass State also saw a jump in overdose deaths last year during the pandemic. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 53.1 percent increase in predicted cases in the 12-month period ending in October 2020, compared to the previous year.