Nov 8, 2019

Walgreens' outsized role in the opioid epidemic

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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More opioid companies facing criminal probes

Oxycodone pills. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Several opioid manufacturers and drug distributors are facing criminal investigations from the Department of Justice about whether they intentionally skirted federal law by not monitoring the flow of potent painkiller pills, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Purdue Pharma has already been ensnared in criminal probes, and now federal prosecutors are casting a wider net to determine the level of alleged wrongdoing that has resulted in tens of thousands of overdose deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Nov 27, 2019

Activist investor takes small stake in CVS

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Starboard Value, the activist hedge fund led by Jeffrey Smith, has taken a "relatively small" stake in CVS Health Corp. (NYSE: CVS), per the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: We don't know what Starboard wants from CVS, except that it isn't the status quo. Plus, this comes just weeks after reports that private equity is kicking the tire on CVS rival Walgreens, while Starboard just realized a win yesterday when eBay agreed to sell StubHub to Viagogo for $4 billion.

Go deeperArrowNov 26, 2019

MLB weighs new opioid testing policy for players

Tyler Skaggs died at age 27 in July from opioid-related causes. Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Major League Baseball players could be randomly tested for the first time for opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl as the sport grapples with how to address the opioid epidemic, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Professional athletes, who are especially prone to injury, risk greater exposure and addiction to opioids due to pain management. The discussions between the league and its players' union were prompted by the July death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who had oxycodone, fentanyl and alcohol in his system.

Go deeper: Where the major sports leagues stand on weed

Keep ReadingArrowNov 27, 2019