Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday his office is suing Kroger, Albertsons and Rite Aid, arguing their pharmacy chains failed to act as the “final barrier” against the overprescription of opioids.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court, is a continuation of efforts by Ferguson and other attorneys general across the country to hold businesses responsible for their roles in allowing prescription opioids to proliferate.
According to the lawsuit, more than 12,000 Washingtonians died of an opioid overdose between 2006 and 2021.
“During the opioid crisis over the last decade, these companies ignored federal regulations, put profits over safety, and knowingly oversupplied opioids in our state,” Ferguson said at a news conference in Seattle.
“Washingtonians trust pharmacies to be responsible,” he said. “They depend on that for their health. Pharmacies serve an important role as the final barrier to prevent overprescribing controlled substances or any prescription drugs. But that is not what happened in many cases.”
The lawsuit argues pharmacies have an important role to play as “gatekeepers” against drug abuse, given their knowledge of drugs and the data they have on prescriptions and purchases, but the three instead prioritized “speed and maximizing profit.”
The lawsuit alleges that the pharmacies failed to detect potentially suspicious orders or prescriptions and filled prescriptions they should have known were likely to be “diverted into illegitimate channels” and those that were flagged by their internal monitoring systems. The lawsuit also claims the pharmacies failed to report suspicious orders or prescriptions.
In one instance, Bartell Drugs, acquired by Rite Aid in 2020, paid $800,000 in fines to settle allegations that it filled prescriptions written by providers who didn’t have valid state licenses, according to the lawsuit and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The company did not admit wrongdoing or liability in that settlement.
Ferguson said all three companies had previously paid fines for violating federal rules concerning opioid prescriptions, but that the fines “are not enough to achieve meaningful accountability.” He said the pharmacies helped fuel an illegal market for opioids by oversupplying the drugs.
The attorney general is suing the companies under state law, accusing them of violating the state’s consumer protection and public nuisance laws.
Ferguson also announced Wednesday that he signed multistate resolutions with CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies, as well as Teva and Allergan pharmaceutical companies, for their roles in the opioid crisis. The Attorney General’s Office estimated those resolutions, once finalized, could bring $434.4 million to the state, although much of that will be spread over the next decade or so.
That money must be used to combat the opioid epidemic and will be split between the state and local governments.
Those recent resolutions will be on top of hundreds of millions of dollars the state has secured after legal battles against opioid makers and distributors.
The companies pay the money to a settlement administrator who parcels out the money to participating government entities. Those entities have to spend the money in line with the state’s opioid and overdose response plan. For example, the money can be spent on expanding treatment for opioid use disorder and on services like housing, transportation and child care for people with opioid use disorder.