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Consequences to opioid epidemic

As it became increasingly evident that the opioid epidemic was sparked and fanned by “legal” drug dealers such as doctors, pain clinics and pharmacies, residents across Appalachia and the Rust Belt cried out for justice. Earlier this week, they got a little.

A federal jury in Ohio decided CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies recklessly distributed absurdly large numbers of the pain pills in Lake and Trumbull counties. This was the first time pharmacy companies decided to go to trial in an attempt to defend themselves. But the jury determined the pharmacies did, indeed, play an outsized role in poisoning our communities.

“The law requires pharmacies to be diligent in dealing drugs. This case should be a wake-up call that failure will not be accepted,” said Mark Lanier, an attorney for the counties. “The jury sounded a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America.”

Of course there will be appeals, meaning for now the pharmacies in question are still trying to blame everyone else. There certainly were many entities at fault. But the very fact responsible pharmacies have since changed their practices in dealing with opioids and some other kinds of medication indicates they know they should have been better gatekeepers.

Approximately 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016 — equivalent to 400 for every resident. Lake County saw approximately 61 million pills distributed during that period.

For now, the decision should be an important reminder to all pharmacies of their responsibility to adhere to principles such as the code of ethics spelled out by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which includes:

“A pharmacist promotes the good of every patient …,” meaning “A pharmacist places concern for the well-being of the patient at the center of professional practice.”

And “A pharmacist acts with honesty and integrity in professional relationships,” meaning “A pharmacist has a duty to tell the truth and to act with conviction of conscience.”

No where in that or similar documents does it say “A pharmacist should do what the doctors and pill mills say, even after discovering such orders are killing tens of thousands of people.”

A federal judge will determine this spring what consequences the three pharmacies will face in the Ohio case. It is a shame so many have paid already with their lives.

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