Drugstore chain CVS wins state suit over opioids

A federal jury sided with drugstore chain CVS Health in a suit filed by Washington state officials accusing the company of profiting from the opioid epidemic.

The decision comes as President Donald Trump appeared to blunt efforts to quell the crisis Tuesday by calling on states not to tax sugary drinks, suggesting that doing so would just entice illegal drug smugglers to drive more drugs into their borders.

“I’m asking our states to make sure that you don’t hurt your economy if you’re trying to stop drugs from coming in — this is a tremendous tragedy,” he said in Midland, Texas. “We’re making a lot of money on the drug dealers.”

The lawsuit, filed in the spring, was among a growing number of lawsuits against the nation’s drugstore chains.

CVS, based in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Walgreens, based in Deerfield, Illinois, are both among the largest pharmacy chains in the nation, accounting for a quarter of U.S. prescriptions.

The company, in a statement after the verdict, said it would continue to fight for the opioid crisis, and would draw lessons from the decision to continue to operate in Washington state.

“We respect the court system and remain committed to ensuring our customers and providers have access to safe, quality opioids to manage chronic pain,” the company said.

The company also mentioned the company’s recent policy change, which includes requiring patients to receive a doctor’s authorization to have opioids prescribed.

CVS is involved in 28 state investigations and receives fines every few months from Medicare over its promotional practices.

Drugstore executives are not new to lawsuits that have targeted opioid abuse.

CVS faced a class-action lawsuit filed in 2010 that alleged that, while growing concerns about “opioid abuse” dogged the company, it was focusing most of its efforts on generic medications and discouraging patients from seeking addiction treatment.

A number of states, in a 2011 lawsuit, alleged that CVS “declared war on pharmacies that were filling prescriptions for powerful pain medications” and covered the costs of relapsing on the medications.

In 2013, CVS received a $600,000 fine from Florida, which alleged that the company had violated state law by capping its bonuses for employees based on sales of opioid drugs, a practice it had reversed in January 2014.

CVS had also received a fine in 2008, from Minnesota, which claimed the company engaged in deceptive advertising, and pharmacy rate audits, according to court documents.

The company had been accused of inaccurately telling customers that their prescription opioids could be refilled for a year, and of billing Medicare for more prescriptions than it actually dispensed.

While many people have tried to stigmatize chronic pain as a condition that leads to addiction, studies in recent years have found that there is a clear link between opioid use and chronic pain, the pain of cancer, paraplegia and multiple sclerosis, and to oxycodone, a narcotic pain medication.

Multiple studies have shown that oxycodone abuse contributes to a significant number of deaths due to overdoses.

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