NH sues pharmacies for over distributing opioids

·3 min read

Jul. 26—New Hampshire has sued several pharmacy chains, claiming their over-distribution and dispensing of prescription opioids fueled an epidemic of addiction in the state.

The Attorney General's Office filed the suit in Merrimack Superior Court last week. The national chains named are CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens and subsidiaries.

The law requires "pharmacies to be diligent in distributing and dispensing controlled drugs, including highly addictive pain medications," Attorney General John Formella said in a statement.

"These large pharmacy companies failed to report suspiciously large quantities being shipped into their neighborhood retail pharmacies or suspicious prescriptions to their customers," he said. "For decades now, these companies have watched pain pills that they are distributing and dispensing cause extreme harm and deaths."

The suit aims "to prevent future harm and to redress past wrongs."

"This crisis arose not only from the opioid manufacturers' deliberate marketing strategy, but from distributors' and pharmacies' equally deliberate efforts to evade restrictions on opioid distribution and dispensing," the suit reads.

From 2006 to 2014, more than 366 million prescription opioids pills were supplied to New Hampshire, according to the Washington Post's review of Drug Enforcement Administration's database.

"Defendants were well aware that the overwhelming increase in opioids dispensed by their pharmacies, collectively and individually, was meeting more than an appropriate and legitimate market demand," the suit reads. "Rather than continuing to sell, dispense, and profit from these highly dangerous drugs, they had a duty to investigate, report and stop some of their prescriptions and report them to the DEA and local law enforcement."

The suit says pharmacies are the last link in the opioid supply chain and a critical gatekeeper "between dangerous opioid narcotics" and the public.

These pharmacies "utterly failed in their gatekeeper role and flouted their duties to protect public health and safety," the suit reads.

The chains also failed to design systems to identify, investigate and report suspicious orders, according to the suit.

"Defendants' conduct in fueling diversion has had severe and far-reaching consequences on public health, social services, and criminal justice, including the fueling of addiction and overdose from illicit drugs such as heroin," the suit reads.

The lawsuit claims the opioid epidemic would not have been as grave if the pharmacies had done so.

According to a news release, New Hampshire is among the nation's top five states when it comes to opioid-involved deaths.

The lawsuit alleges the pharmacies helped to create the opioid epidemic, "by ignoring what should have been obvious red flags."

Lawsuits against pharmacies have been filed in Pennsylvania and Ohio. In November, and Ohio jury found CVS, Walgreens and Walmart recklessly distributed drugs in two counties.

CVS and Rite Aid did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon. A spokesman for Walgreens declined comment.

The complaint follows suits filed against opioid distributors Cardinal Health and McKesson, and suits against opioid manufacturers Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt, Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, according to a news release. The state was part of a national attorneys general settlement with McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen and will receive approximately $115 million from that settlement over 18 years, according to the news release.

The state's suit against Johnson & Johnson is scheduled for trial in September.