June 14, 2018 / 3:24 PM / in 7 days

Kentucky sues Walgreens, cites 'alarming' rate of dispensing opioids

(Reuters) - Kentucky’s attorney general on Thursday sued Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (WBA.O), accusing the company of playing a dual role in propagating an opioid epidemic in the state as both a pharmacy chain and wholesale drug distributor.

A customer walks out of a Walgreens pharmacy store in Austin, TX, U.S., March 26, 2018. Picture taken on March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed

The lawsuit by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear was his sixth to date seeking to hold corporations like drug manufacturers and distributors responsible for their roles in the drug abuse crisis.

The lawsuit, filed in state circuit court in Boone County, said Walgreens filled massive opioid orders in both unusually large sizes and great frequencies. In its role as a distributor that shipped drugs, the company failed to report suspicious orders to authorities.

At the store level, Walgreens 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.

The only possible explanation for the large quantities of opioids dispensed from its Kentucky stores was that some of the drugs were distributed to addicts and abused or diverted for illegal uses, the complaint said.

“While Walgreens’ slogan was ‘at the corner of happy and healthy,’ they have significantly harmed the health of our families in fueling the opioid epidemic,” Beshear said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleged that because Walgreens allowed for the proliferation of dangerous opioids into Kentucky, the state’s citizens suffered from drug addiction, overdoses and death.

The lawsuit seeks damages and penalties as well as an injunction.

Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens declined to comment.

Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kentucky had 1,404 overdose deaths in 2016, the lawsuit said. The state had the third highest drug overdose rate in 2015 behind West Virginia and New Hampshire, according to Beshear’s complaint.

States, counties and cities have filed hundreds of lawsuits, accusing drugmakers of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing, and accused wholesale distributors of failing to report suspicious drug orders.

Beshear is pursuing similar cases against drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC.N), Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N) and McKesson Corp (MCK.N) as well as drugmakers Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and Endo International Plc (ENDP.O).

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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