Nov 7, 2019
The Washington Post – At the height of the opioid epidemic, Walgreens handled nearly one out of every five oxycodone and hydrocodone pills shipped to pharmacies across America.
Walgreens dominated the nation’s retail opioid market from 2006 through 2012, buying about 13 billion pills — 3 billion more than CVS, its closest competitor, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration database of opioid shipments. Over those years, Walgreens more than doubled its purchases of oxycodone.
The company had “runaway growth” of oxycodone sales because it continued to send pills to stores “without limit or review,” Edward Bratton, Walgreens manager of pharmaceutical integrity, wrote to another employee in 2013.
The email is among thousands of documents recently disclosed in a federal lawsuit that seeks to hold Walgreens and other businesses responsible for the nation’s opioid crisis.
While most chain and independent pharmacies relied heavily on wholesalers to supply their prescription opioids, Walgreens obtained 97 percent of its pain pills directly from drug manufacturers, a Washington Post analysis of the data shows.
This arrangement allowed Walgreens to have more control over how many pain pills it sent to its stores.
By acting as its own distributor, Walgreens took on the responsibility of alerting the DEA to suspicious orders by its own pharmacies and stopping those shipments. 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.
From 2006 through 2012, Walgreens ordered 31 percent more oxycodone and hydrocodone pills per store on average than CVS pharmacies, and 73 percent more than other pharmacies nationwide, according to The Post’s analysis of the DEA database, known as the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS).
When Walgreens considered surveying its pharmacies in Florida in 2011 to identify questionable pain pill customers, a company attorney advised caution … Read more.