- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia’s attorney general sued Walmart and drugstore chain CVS on Tuesday, saying they failed to monitor and report suspicious orders of prescription painkillers to their retail pharmacies in a state ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

Patrick Morrisey’s lawsuits allege violations of the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act and conduct that caused a public nuisance.

Morrisey said Walmart and CVS each were among the state’s top 10 opioid distributors from 2006 to 2014. West Virginia by far leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths.

“We must hold everyone accountable for the roles they played in the opioid epidemic and continue to push toward solutions that go after the root cause of the problem,” Morrisey said in a statement.

The lawsuits accuse CVS and Walmart of continuing to sell and ship opioids rather than report suspicious orders and stop pharmaceuticals from being diverted for illicit use.

Morrisey said the companies supplied far more opioids to their retail pharmacies than necessary. The lawsuits say the companies’ individual retail pharmacies had to order additional pills from other distributors to keep up with demand.

In a statement, CVS Health spokesman Mike DeAngelis called the lawsuit “misguided.”

“Opioids are made and marketed by drug manufacturers, not pharmacies,” DeAngelis said in a statement. “We dispense opioid prescriptions written by a licensed physician for a legitimate medical need.”

DeAngelis said CVS stopped distributing hydrocodone combination painkillers in 2014 immediately after the DEA reclassified them as Schedule II drugs, which are considered to have a high potential for abuse and dependence.

“Further, we only distributed them to our own CVS pharmacies, not to pain clinics, independent pharmacies or rogue internet pharmacies,” he said.

Walmart did not return an email seeking comment.

Morrisey filed similar lawsuits against Rite-Aid and Walgreens in June, and last year against opioid manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Endo Health Solutions Inc. and Mallinckrodt LLC.

More than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have filed similar claims seeking to hold the drug industry accountable for the opioid crisis. Most of the suits have been consolidated under a federal judge in Cleveland.

U.S. state and territorial governments say the opioid epidemic has cost them $630 billion since 2007. That number is based on past and future costs of the opioid-related medical care of state employees and Medicaid recipients; justice and child welfare system costs; prevention programs and other spending. It also includes future opioid abatement programs that advocates say are needed.

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