January 26, 2021
As the country continues to endure the COVID-19 pandemic, the news media has focused on the economic impact including unemployment statistics and food lines in many cities throughout the US. However, one major issue that has not been included in the news media is the worsening of the opioid epidemic.
Recently, the American Medical Association has sounded the alarm on the worsening opioid crises during the pandemic. Many more Americans are anxious, depressed, isolated, unemployed, and worrying about their finances. Due to these concerns, more Americans are becoming dependent on illicit substances including opioids to cope with these stressors. More than 19,000 Americans have died of a drug overdose in the first three months of 2020, more than 3000 more than the same time period in 2019. 1
Recently, the Department of Justice said it is suing Walmart for unlawfully dispensed controlled substances through their pharmacies helping fuel the opioid crises. 2 The suite states, “Walmart allegedly ignored repeated warnings that the company understaffed its pharmacies as pressure to sell quickly caused mistakes and put patient’s health at risk”. Pharmacists allegedly received little help from compliance managers who for years did not share information between stores. 2 One pharmacist stated, “if all of us got together and started filling out refusal-to-fill forms for one pill-mill prescriber, that is all we would do all day long”. One physician actually wrote 14,700 prescriptions over 3 years, an average of more than 13 a day, encompassing more than 1.5 million doses. The result included a conviction based on violations of the Controlled Substance Act and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. 2
As we can see, there is minimal to no support for pharmacists in this sad story. Walmart will continue to dodge the responsibilities needed to help pharmacists and protect our patients. As with any corporation, Walmart will just pay the fine and continue to point the fingers at the government or their own licensed pharmacists for filling these prescriptions. Maybe Walmart will step up and show some corporate responsibility. I may be a bit too optimistic.
Michael J. Cawley, PharmD, RRT, CPFT, FCCM, has more than 25 years of experience practicing in the areas of medical, surgical, trauma, and burn intensive care as both a critical care clinical pharmacist and registered respiratory therapist.
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- AMA. As Covid -19 surges, AMA sounds alarm on nation’s overdose epidemic. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/opioids/covid-19-surges-ama-sounds-alarm-nation-s-overdose-epidemic. Accessed December 20, 2020.
- The Wall Street Journal. U.S. sues Walmart, Alleging role in fueling opioid crises. https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-sues-walmart-alleging-role-in-fueling-opioid-crisis-11608661856. Accessed December 23, 2020.