Florida Vs Pharmacies: Fueling The Opioid Crisis?

by Hannah Zwemer |  ❘ 

Will Walgreens Follow Suit With Pharmaceutical Competitors?

Over the past 20 years, nearly 500,000 American lives have been lost to the Opioid Epidemic due to prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and other illicit substances sold on the street. As recently as Monday, April 11, 2022, the popular pharmacy chain Walgreens is being prosecuted by the state of Florida for the “fraud and addiction that the company should have noticed and acted upon.”

Florida’s prosecutor Jim Webster says the company of roughly 9,000 storefronts, 820 of which located in Florida, was knowingly dispensing medications that were actively killing people. Records show that from May of 2006 to June of 2021 in Florida alone, Walgreens distributed approximately 4.3 billion Opioid pills. Between the years 1999-2020, more than 39,000 Florida residents died from Opioid use. According to Webster, 1 in 4 of these cases was traced to Walgreens’ sale and suspicious circumstances: fake prescriptions, questionable physicians, and unnecessary amounts of pills for any singular patient.

Walgreens’ attorney, Steve Derringer, claims that the real issue lies with the pharmaceutical companies not being entirely forthright and truthful about the addictiveness of Opioids, not that of the individual pharmacy chains like Walgreens.

Walgreens Is The Last To Budge

This is hardly the first lawsuit regarding Opioids and the pharmacies responsible for distributing them in Florida. So far, the state has reached nearly $878 million dollars in settlements: CVS Health Corp agreed to pay the highest so far at $484 million, with Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd next at $195 million, and Allergan PLC paying upwards of $134 million. This case follows that of the nationwide deal where Purdue Pharma’s owners, the Sackler family, agreed to pay $6 billion in settlements. Considering the estimated total cost of both civil and criminal penalties tied to OxyContin’s parent company since 2007 is roughly $45 billion, the contributions from the family responsible hardly makes a dent in the national deficit. Florida alone has spent nearly $14 billion over the last two decades in various Opioid-related costs, from criminal justice and drug rehabilitation reform to saving infants born with an Opioid addiction.

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Taking place in New Port Richey, Florida, just north of Tampa, the trial is slated to last anywhere from 3-8 weeks. Walgreens, the largest pharmacy chain in the country, is the last stake in this multi-pronged Opioid prosecution campaign. In the opening statement on Monday, Florida’s Attorney General, Ashley Moody said her department wants the store chain to be held responsible “for its role in helping create and fuel the deadly Opioid crisis devastating Florida families and draining taxpayer-funded resources.”

Following the relative success of the settlements with other big pharmacy brands, Webster, in his opening remarks claims:

Walgreens was the last line of defense in improperly distributing Opioids. The evidence will show that millions of times, Walgreens ignored its duty to investigate suspicious prescriptions. Instead, it filled them as quickly as possible.

- Attorney Jim Webster, 2022

Who Is Really Responsible?

Due to the number of players and stakeholders and general scope of the Opioid Epidemic, it is tough to determine who and what deserves the largest number of pointed fingers. Many families who have lost loved ones to the addictive power of prescription painkillers blame the Sackler family and their intentional negligence to inform physicians and pharmacies of the inherent danger in medications such as OxyContin. Others point to the drug counters across the country and wonder why no one questioned the increasing amount of Opioid prescriptions running through their systems while still others don’t understand how doctors could be so obtrusively unaware of the devastating side effects.

Regardless of the outcome, the issue proceeds. The scariest part of the Opioid crisis is the fact that an addiction can start from a prescribed medication if the individual is not cautious and aware. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to painkillers, or any other substance, remember you are not alone and there are resources to help you.

As for the judicial trials, only time will tell.

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Hannah Zwemer

Photo of Hannah Zwemer
  • Hannah Zwemer graduated with a BA in dance and a minor in educational studies from Denison University in 2017 before moving to Orlando to work as a performer at Walt Disney World. While at Disney, she discovered her passion for writing and pursued a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in nonfiction. She is passionate about helping people in any way she can while simultaneously sharing stories that remind us that the best of us are still only human.

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