Tennessee Attorney General sues Walgreens over opioid exploitation

By: - August 3, 2022 4:36 pm
Eighty percent of drug overdose deaths in Tennessee during 2020 came from prescription and synthetic opioids.(Photo: Mint

(Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images)

Walgreens’ pharmacies in Tennessee are accused in a lawsuit filed Wednesday of exploiting the opioid epidemic for profit, filling prescriptions written by healthcare providers the firm knew had  been “raided, disciplined, arrested or indicted,” dispensed massive doses of the dangerous drugs to children as young as two-years-old and doled out more than 103,000 pills prescribed by an obstetrician for pregnant patients.

Attorneys working under the direction of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III on Wednesday filed the lawsuit in Knox County Circuit Court. The litigation accuses Walgreens of violating the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act and state public nuisance laws.

The lawsuit filing is the latest in what has been a campaign by Slatery’s office to seek to hold drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies financially responsible for the costs of the opioid epidemic, which has claimed thousands of lives in Tennessee, caused the addiction of tens of thousands of patients misled about the addictive properties of the drug and overburdened both the healthcare system and the criminal justice system.

Walgreens operates between 200 and 300 pharmacies in Tennessee. According to the lawsuit, Walgreens’ pharmacists dispensed more than one billion opiate pills between 2006 and 2020.

“With Tennessee’s population between six and seven million citizens, Walgreens alone sold approximately 175 oxycodone or hydrocodone pills for every man, woman and child in Tennessee,” a news release from Slatery’s office stated. “Walgreens’ pharmacy in Jamestown dispensed enough to give every Jamestown resident 2,104 pills.”

Among the lawsuit’s allegations are the following:

  • Regularly sold huge quantities of dangerous “high risk” prescription combinations, in particular the “Holy Trinity” of an opioid, a benzodiazepine (e.g., Xanax), and a muscle relaxer (e.g., Soma). 
  • For years, Walgreens failed to perform due diligence or even train its pharmacists on how to recognize red flags for opioid abuse and diversion.
  • Walgreens’ pharmacies in Tennessee dispensed opioids to patients from at least 31 different states.
  • Ignored or watered-down reports of suspicious prescribers, allowing its pharmacies to continue selling opioids even after these doctors, nurses, and physician assistants were raided, disciplined, arrested, or indicted.
  • It also continued selling massive quantities of opioids despite clear evidence that prescriptions through identified doctors were unlawful. For example, Walgreens filled dangerous prescriptions from a doctor in McMinnville, Tennessee who was well known for lying about patient’s diagnoses, prescribing opioids to patients who were currently serving jail time and prescribing to out-of-state patients. Despite being told this doctor’s practice was “a danger to the community and needs to be blocked,” Walgreens refused and the very next year dispensed more than twice as many opioids prescribed by him.
  • Walgreens filled numerous opioid prescriptions for children as young as two-years old, including one which was the largest narcotics prescription written by a dentist in Erin, Tennessee. The prescription was 2.5 times the recommended maximum daily dose of opioids for an adult.
  • Walgreens’ pharmacies in Tennessee dispensed 103,000 pills prescribed by an OB-GYN in Germantown from June 2013 to March 2014.  Almost 20% of the Opioid Dosage Units (ODUs) prescribed and filled by Walgreens from this doctor were for out-of-state patients.
  • Walgreens’ pharmacies regularly filled prescriptions from a family doctor in Brentwood who prescribed more OxyContin between 2006 and 2016 than any other health care professional in Tennessee (despite his not prescribing any tablets from 2013 to 2016 because his license was suspended).

This is a developing story. The Tennessee Lookout will provide more details in upcoming stories.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jamie Satterfield
Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield is an investigative journalist with more than 33 years of experience, specializing in legal affairs, policing, public corruption, environmental crime and civil rights violations. Her journalism has been honored as some of the best in the nation, earning recognition from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards, the Green Eyeshade Awards, the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Managing Editors Association, the First Amendment Center and many other industry organizations. Her work has led to criminal charges against wrongdoers, changes in state law and citations in legal opinions and journals. She was married to the love of her life for 28 years and is now a widow and proud mother of two successful children of good character and work ethic.