Kentucky AG sues CVS Health over US state’s opioid epidemic

Kentucky’s attorney general on Wednesday accused CVS Health’s pharmacy chain – one of the largest in the United States – of flooding the state with prescription opioids.

Wednesday's suit against CVS Health is Kentucky's latest legal action against companies it blames for supplying a massive pipeline of prescription pills into Kentucky [File: David Goldman/AP]

Kentucky’s attorney general on Wednesday sued CVS Health, accusing its pharmacy chain of flooding the United States state with prescription opioids that contributed to the state’s addiction woes.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed the lawsuit in Franklin County Circuit Court, saying the healthcare company played a role in “fueling the crisis” by inundating the state with millions of doses of powerful prescription painkillers.

“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 news release.

It’s the state’s latest legal action against companies it blames for supplying a massive pipeline of prescription pills into Kentucky. In 2015, drug overdoses accounted for about 60 percent of Kentucky’s statewide accidental deaths, Cameron said. The Republican attorney general is pressing lawsuits against several other opioid manufacturers and distributors. Many of those suits were filed by Cameron’s predecessor, Democrat Andy Beshear, who is now Kentucky’s governor.

CVS Health did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The company operates one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains.

The new lawsuit says CVS Health used unlawful business practices and failed to guard against the diversion of the powerful opioids.

To highlight the massive supply, Cameron said one CVS store in Perry County purchased more than 6.8 million dosage units of oxycodone and hydrocodone from 2006 to 2014 — enough opioids for residents of the Appalachian county to have more than 26 pills every year during the same period. In western Kentucky, a CVS store in Crittenden County bought more than 2.8 million dosage units of the drugs, enough to supply everyone in the county with at least 34 pills every year, he said.

Since CVS had a dual role in the opioid supply chain as a distributor and pharmacy, the lawsuit says the company’s compliance with the law “was vital to safeguard consumers and control the rate of addiction, abuse, and diversion of opioids”.

Despite supplying “staggering quantities” of opioids in Kentucky, CVS reported zero suspicious orders for its Kentucky stores from 2007 to 2014, Cameron said. Even during the height of the opioid epidemic, CVS helped promote opioid products, he said.

Drug overdose deaths spiked nationally and in Kentucky during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Kentucky, overdose deaths rose by 50 percent from September 2019 to September 2020, compared with the previous 12 months, according to preliminary figures released in April by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Courier-Journal reported. Addiction experts say the pandemic left people stressed and isolated, disrupted treatment and recovery programmes, and contributed to an increasingly dangerous illicit drug supply.

Source: AP