Kroger helped ‘open the floodgates’ for opioid use, KY attorney general claims in lawsuit

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Just over a month into his new role as Kentucky Attorney General, Russell Coleman has filed a lawsuit against the Kroger Company for its alleged role in distributing opioids into the state without safeguards.

In a Monday news release, Coleman alleged that between 2006 and 2019, more than 100 Kentucky Kroger pharmacies were responsible for over 11% of all opioid pills dispensed in the state.

The 60-page complaint, filed in Bullitt County Circuit Court, alleges Kroger pharmacies bought over 4 billion morphine milligram equivalents of opioids over the course of 13 years. This is roughly the amount of 444 million opioid doses. Kroger also allegedly shipped 1 million opioid shipments in Kentucky, the lawsuit states.

Kroger pharmacies allegedly distributed 194 million hydrocodone pills during that same time period.

“For more than a decade, Kroger flooded Kentucky with an almost unthinkable number of opioid pills that directly led to addiction, pain and death,” Coleman said in a news release. “Kroger, which families have trusted for so long, knowingly made these dangerous and highly addictive substances all too accessible. Worst of all, Kroger never created a formal system, a training or even a set of guidelines to report suspicious activity or abuse. The scourge of addiction that has plowed through graduating classes, work forces and entire families is the devastating result.”

Coleman alleges Kroger violated the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act and continued public nuisance. They are requesting a jury trial and to award civil penalties of $2,000 for each willful violation of the Kentucky Consume Protection Act.

Jessica Sharp, the corporate affairs manager for the Kroger Louisville Division, was not immediately available for comment on Monday evening.

Attorney General-elect Russell Coleman, November 16, 2023.
Attorney General-elect Russell Coleman, November 16, 2023.

Coleman said that as a distributor and dispenser, Kroger had access to real-time data that showed unusual prescribing patters and ability to track suspicious order.

“Despite clear red flags, Kroger did not report a single suspicious prescription in the Commonwealth between 2007 and 2014,” Coleman said in the news release.

The lawsuit alleges the company failed to implement any effective monitoring program to stop suspicious opioid orders.

“At the store level, Kroger also dispensed opioids at such an alarming rate and volume that there could be no legitimate medical purpose for their use,” the lawsuit reads. “The only possible explanation for such massive amounts of opioids pouring into and out of Kroger’s store in Kentucky is that they failed to identify, investigate, and, where appropriate, refuse to fill suspicious prescriptions, which in turn fueled individuals’ addiction and were misused, abused or diverted.”

The lawsuit stated Kroger worked with Purdue Pharma to promote opioids and improperly normalize their widespread use.

Kroger is alleged to have worked with Purdue Pharma on campaigns that “spread false messaging about the addictive nature of prescription opioids.”

“Instead of playing the critical gatekeeper role that pharmacies were supposed to play, Kroger instead helped open the floodgates of dangerous narcotics flooding into Kentucky,” the lawsuit reads.

In 2022, the state Office of Drug Control Policy reported 2,135 overdose deaths.