CVS Defends Actions Following State Opioids Lawsuit

November 20, 2018
Christine Blank
Christine Blank

CVS health care defended itself after the drugstore chain and Walgreens were added to a Florida lawsuit alleging that they failed to stop suspicious opioid prescriptions.

In the amended complaint against opioid manufacturers and distributors, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi alleges that Walgreens, CVS Healthcare, CVS Pharmacy and Insys Therapeutics increased the supply of opioids in Florida and nationwide.

CVS believes its inclusion in the lawsuit is “without merit,” says Mike DeAngelis, senior director of corporate communications, in a statement provided to Drug Topics.

The amended complaint alleges that, as two of the largest opioid distributors in Florida, Walgreens and CVS “failed in their duties under Florida law to stop suspicious orders of opioids they received and dispensed unreasonable quantities of opioids from their pharmacies,” Bondi’s statement says.

“We are committed to the highest standards of ethics and business practices, including complying with all federal and state laws governing the dispensing of controlled substance prescriptions, and CVS is dedicated to helping reduce prescription drug abuse and diversion. We also have stringent policies, procedures, and tools to help ensure that our pharmacists properly exercise their professional responsibility to evaluate controlled substance prescriptions before filling them,” DeAngelis says.

Over the past several years, CVS has taken numerous actions to strengthen its existing safeguards to help address the nation’s opioid epidemic, according to DeAngelis. “This includes millions of hours training our pharmacy teams about responsibilities and best practices regarding controlled substances. In fact, over the past five years, there has been approximately a 38% decrease in opioid dispensing at our retail pharmacies,” DeAngelis says.

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” a Walgreens spokesperson tells Drug Topics.

Bondi’s office also declined to comment on the lawsuit. “As this matter is now in active litigation, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the allegations in our complaint or whether additional pharmacies will be added to the complaint in the future,” says Whitney Ray, director of communications for the Florida Attorney General’s office.

CVS, which distributed more than 700 million dosages of opioids between 2006 and 2014, has been investigated and fined for “some of its many failures to secure its supply chain and its own pharmacy stores, but continues to allow inappropriate and harmful distribution of opioids,” the complaint states.

In 2015, CVS agreed to pay $22 million to resolve DEA allegations that retail stores in Sanford, FL, distributed controlled substances-including opioids-based on prescriptions that had not been issued for legitimate medical purposes, according to the complaint.

CVS claims that its “utilization management program” ensures that opioids are being prescribed and used appropriately, according to the complaint. “CVS’s public statements misled the public and officials of the State of Florida to believe that CVS was taking effective steps to fight the opioid epidemic,” the complaint says. “The opioid crisis described herein is a direct and foreseeable result of CVS’s actions.”

The complaint states that Walgreens agreed to pay $80 million to resolve a DEA investigation into inadequate record keeping and diversion related to opioids. “According to the DEA, ‘Walgreens’ Florida pharmacies each allegedly ordered more than one million dosage units of oxycodone in 2011-more than ten times the average amount’,” the complaint says.

While Walgreens publicly stated that it would maintain a compliance program to detect and monitor diversion, including training its pharmacists on red flags for diversion, it has failed to implement a program to adequately do so, the complaint states.

Other defendants previously named in the lawsuit include Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson Corp.