New Mexico filed a comprehensive opioid lawsuit in 2017 alleging that companies at all levels of the supply chain benefited from the sale of large quantities of prescription painkillers statewide.
A Santa Fe district court heard opening statements last week in what is expected to be a seven-week lawsuit against three of the state’s largest pharmacy chains.
The lawsuit alleges that Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger pharmacies failed to investigate suspected opioid orders and made large profits from selling addictive drugs to New Mexicans.
Lawyers for the pharmacy chains responded that pharmacists have a responsibility to fill prescriptions ordered by doctors who have emphasized treating pain as a top medical priority for years.
“The evidence will also show that Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger have not dispensed opioid drugs without prescriptions from prescribers,” Walgreens’ attorney, Dan Taylor, said in his opening statement.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in his opening statement that dozens of other companies named in the original lawsuit have settled with the state.
“The other defendants in this case, Walmart, Walgreens and Kroger, are responsible for one in every two pills sold in New Mexico, but they steadfastly claim they did nothing wrong,” Balderas told the judge of the 1st Judiciary. district of Francis Mathew.
Balderas said a single Walgreens pharmacy in Española dispensed 12.4 million opioid pills between 2006 and 2019.
“That’s enough to give every man, woman and child in Espanola 841 pills for that period,” he said.
Without naming a dollar amount, Balderas said New Mexico is seeking “the funds needed to rebuild and strengthen communities and infrastructure” devastated by opioids.
Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said the nationwide pharmacy chain does not manufacture or market opioids, “nor have we distributed them to the ‘pill mills’ and Internet pharmacies” that are largely responsible for the problem.
“The only place Walgreens ever dispensed opioid drugs was at the pharmacy when they received a valid prescription from a licensed physician for a legitimate medical need,” Engerman said in a written statement.
Walmart’s attorney John Majoris said in his opening statement that New Mexico’s policy on opioid prescribing has shifted over the years from one that encouraged aggressive treatment of pain to a later position that imposed restrictions on the use of opioid drugs. prescribing opioids. Majoris presented the common arguments for all three suspects.
“When the state encouraged prescribers to treat pain aggressively, they wrote more prescriptions, increasing supply in the state,” Majoris said. In later years, the state encouraged prescribers to be more judicious when prescribing opioids.
Prescribers controlled the supply of opioids during this time, Majoris said. Pharmacists filled prescriptions as directed by prescribers, he said.
“There’s no question that prescribers in New Mexico — and not pharmacists — are responsible for the number of prescriptions in the state at any given time,” Majoris said. “Pharmacists don’t set social or medical policies.”
In September 2017, New Mexico became the eighth state to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors because “the sheer volume of prescription opioids distributed to (New Mexico) pharmacies is excessive for the medical need of the community.”
The state expanded the lawsuit to include several retail pharmacies in February 2019. New Mexico then reached settlements with a number of opioid manufacturers and distributors in a deal estimated by Balderas’ office to bring in $190 million to the state.
Four major manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, have filed for bankruptcy as a result of the lawsuit “and New Mexico continues to sue them in that forum,” Balderas’s office said in a statement.
In March 2023, the state expects to start a lawsuit in Santa Fe against pharmaceutical manufacturers Teva, Allergan and KVK-Tech.