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Why Kentucky Is Suing Walgreens Over the Opioid Crisis

Kentucky is suing Walgreens (WBA), accusing the pharmacy chain of propagating the opioid crisis hitting the state.

The state’s attorney general, Andy Beshear, filed the lawsuit on Thursday, claiming that Walgreens’ dual role as distributor and dispenser of the opioids allowed the chain to fuel the crisis.

As distributor, Walgreens delivered opioids to its own pharmacies. As dispenser, it filled prescriptions, delivering the opioids to the consumer. Beshear notes that this dual role put Walgreens “at a unique and superior position of knowledge with regard to the gross amount of opioids pumped into its stores and poured out onto the streets of Kentucky.”

Yet despite this knowledge, the orders filled by Walgreens were “for such large quantities of prescription narcotic pain medication that there could be no associated legitimate medical purpose for their use,” writes Beshear in the lawsuit.

He further argued that the company “disregarded and overrode its own safeguard systems” by raising the limit on opioid orders and then filling these orders without reporting or stopping the suspiciously large orders in its Kentucky pharmacies.

The lawsuit goes on to claim that “the only possible explanation” for the large quantity of opioids traveling from Walgreens pharmacies to the Kentucky public “is that an unreasonable portion of the drugs were distributed to individuals suffering from addiction, and/or that the drugs were being misused, abused, or diverted.”

Kentucky has been particularly affected by the opioid crisis in the U.S. According to the lawsuit, more than 1,000 people died of overdoses in the state in 2016. Kentucky had the third highest drug overdose rate in 2015, behind West Virginia and New Hampshire.