West Virginia Record

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Why the opioid crisis is being blamed on big pharmacy chains

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By The West Virginia Record | Jan 22, 2020


“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders,” says John Parker of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance.

“It’s also critical to understand the role of each stakeholder across the supply chain,” he adds. “Distributors do not conduct research, manufacture, market, or prescribe medications, nor do they influence prescribing patterns, the demand for specific products, or patient-benefit designs. The idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated.”

Tell that to Daniel Polster, the judge overseeing the opioid multidistrict litigation in Ohio. Thanks to a ruling by Polster, the pharmacies that settled their cases last year with the counties suing them for their role as opioid distributors are now facing amended claims by those same counties for allegedly filling prescriptions wrongfully. 

CVS, Walmart, Rite Aid, and other pharmacies targeted in this new action responded by filing third-party claims against unnamed medical practitioners. If the pharmacies “supposedly filled prescriptions for an ‘excessive volume’ of opioid medications,” the companies contend, “somebody else must have written those prescriptions.” 

In other words, if they truly believe that too many prescriptions were filled for opiates, the counties should sue the physicians who wrote them, not the pharmacies obliged to fill them – without means to “verify the medical rationale behind prescriptions.” The pharmacies are the ones with the most substantial assets, however, which makes them more tempting targets.

At least, the big ones. The counties don’t seem interested in going after smaller outfits.

“Plaintiff’s new theory is that the opioids crisis in Cuyahoga County can be traced to prescriptions filled by pharmacists working for the Cuyahoga County Pharmacy Chains,” CVS, et al. observe, “but, for some reason, not pharmacists working at any of the many other independent and chain pharmacies that also dispensed opioid medications in the County, often in greater volumes.” 

Funny how that works.

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