Last week Today the University of California, San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University announced the addition of over 2,200 documents to the Opioid Industry Documents Archive (OIDA) that detail the role of retail pharmacies in the opioid epidemic. The release of these documents coincides with a report by STAT that explores individual and systemic failures by some of the United States’ biggest pharmacy chains—including CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart—to stem suspicious or fraudulent prescriptions.
These new documents bring the collection to over 9 million pages in 1.5 million documents. For decades, as opioid addiction and deaths mounted, the public knew very little about the hidden business of making and selling prescription painkillers. Thousands of lawsuits have since shone a bright light on the industry’s practices. The archive is collecting as many documents as possible and sharing them freely.
The new documents, based on litigation led by the Florida and Ohio Attorneys General and the San Francisco City Attorney, show how companies including CVS, Rite-Aid, Target, Walgreens and Walmart repeatedly failed to employ safeguards meant to prevent the over-dispensing and diversion of potentially dangerous controlled substances.
The new documents show that pharmacies repeatedly ignored the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) strict policies and guidelines designed to protect patients who receive controlled substances like prescription opioids. Also, the records show that many of these pharmacies repeatedly faced disciplinary action for failing to take corrective steps after breaking the rules. Examples include:
- Not following DEA guidelines on drug dispensing
- Failing to report suspicious drug sales to the DEA
- Not having (or not following) a plan to prevent the illegal diversion of drugs
- In the case of Walgreens, engaging in deceptive marketing by not informing patients about the dangers of opioids
As part of the UCSF Industry Documents Library, the opioid collection can be cross-searched with all the other collections, including tobacco, chemical, food, other drugs and fossil fuel industry documents. Doing so shows how these industries often collaborate or use the same PR firms, lawyers and for-hire scientists to fight policies to enhance public health.
The growing archive the result of an active collaboration between UCSF and JHU together with many state attorneys general and, in this case, the San Francisco City Attorney. Following the precedent of the 1990s tobacco litigation, the AGs have insisted on making the discovery documents public in a timely manner and included money to pay the costs of making them available free to the public in a timely manner.
It’s disappointing that, except for North Carolina, none of the subsequent AG settlements with Juul have included document disclosure provisions. And, more than a year later, not a single Juul document has been made public. Hopefully, the California, New York, Massachusetts AGs, who have yet to settle their cases with Juul, will remedy this situation. Those AGs have been important players in the opioid documents.