By John Haughey
The Center Square
February 13, 2020
CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens are among defendants in a lawsuit filed by Florida in 2018 for their allegedly “unconscionable efforts to increase the demand and supply of opioids” as the state’s overdose rates doubled between 2014-16.
The retailers, which operate more than 1,600 pharmacies in Florida, filed a third-party complaint in January denying liability “in any respect” for the state’s opioid epidemic and asked the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco County to shift blame to the real culprit: 500 Dr. John and Jane Does.
“Pharmacists do not write prescriptions and do not decide for doctors which medications are appropriate to treat their patients,” states the complaint, filed by both chains’ attorneys. “While pharmacists are highly trained and licensed professionals, they did not attend medical school and are not trained as physicians. They do not examine or diagnose patients. They do not write prescriptions.”
Florida’s lawsuit “is nothing more than unsupported speculation” that pharmacists “filled prescriptions for opioid medications that they should not have filled,” the complaint argues, maintaining Florida has failed to “support its claim with even one instance of an improperly filled prescription.”
The retailers said they would amend their complaint, which cites 500 unidentified “John and Jane Doe” physicians as the liable parties, if the state “ever identifies the specific prescriptions it claims should not have been filled.”
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody on Wednesday asked the complaint be dismissed, calling it a “publicity stunt” and a “tone-deaf distraction by two of the wrongdoers in the national opioid crisis that is claiming 15 lives in Florida every single day.”
In the motion to strike the complaint, state attorneys wrote, “CVS and Walgreens’ gambit is factually unsupported because both pharmacies have records concerning the prescriptions that the pharmacies dispensed, including the names of the doctors who wrote the prescriptions.”
Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, in May 2018, sued 10 drug makers and three wholesale drug distributors, including OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, seeking to recoup millions of dollars the state has spent because of the opioid epidemic.
In November 2018, the state added Walgreens and CVS – the nation’s two largest drugstore chains – to the suit, stating, ”Thousands of Floridians have suffered as a result of the actions of the defendants.”
The suit claims opioids killed 5,725 Floridians in 2016, more than double 2014’s lethal overdose rate. In May 2017, former Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the opioid crisis – a designation that remains in effect.
According to the suit, opioid sales in Florida were less than $1 billion in 1992 but “ballooned” to $8 billion in 2015.
“That same year,” the suit states, “Florida prescribers wrote more than 60 opioid prescriptions for every 100 Floridians.”
The lawsuit claims Walgreens “shipped billions of opioid dosages into the state and dispensed billions of dosages from its 820 Florida stores.”
The state maintains Walgreens should have detected something amiss when it distributed 2.2 million opioid tablets in 2017 from its pharmacy in Hudson, a city of 12,000.
Hudson is in Pasco County, which is why the state filed its case in the 6th Judicial Circuit.
According to the lawsuit, CVS sold 700 million opioid dosages between 2006-14 in its 754 Florida stores, including “outsized sales” in Hudson and two nearby towns.
“Our complaint alleges that these national pharmacies are responsible for knowingly flooding Florida with billions of dangerous and addictive pills all while the opioid crisis continued to spiral out of control,” Moody said. “Instead of engaging in stunts, I would think that these companies would be better served by coming to the table to resolve this crisis that is wreaking havoc on our state.”