Nov 8, 2019 - Health

Walgreens' outsized role in the opioid epidemic

A Walgreens storefront

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Walgreens handled nearly one in five oxycodone and hydrocodone pills that were shipped to pharmacies between 2006 and 2012, as the opioid epidemic worsened, the Washington Post reports.

Between the lines: Walgreens is one of the companies being sued by thousands of communities across the country in federal court.

  • Unlike major drug distributors and manufacturers also being sued, it did not settle with two bellwether counties last month, and is scheduled to go to trial next year.

By the numbers: Walgreens — which bought the vast majority of its pain pills directly from manufacturers, bypassing distributors — bought about 13 billion pills over this time period. Its purchases grew over time.

  • CVS, its closest competitor, bought 3 billion fewer pills.

Because it served as its own distributor, Walgreens was also responsible for alerting the DEA to suspicious orders by its own pharmacies.

  • "Instead, about 2,400 cities and counties nationwide allege that Walgreens failed to report signs of diversion and incentivized pharmacists with bonuses to fill more prescriptions of highly addictive opioids," WashPost writes.

The bottom line: The opioid epidemic's roots run deep into the health care system, revealing profit-seeking behavior throughout the industry — which had deadly consequences.

  • The jury's still out as to whether it was illegal behavior and whether the companies involved should have to pay for the damage.

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