Arkansas AG sues Optum, Express Scripts over alleged role in opioid epidemic 

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin filed a lawsuit June 24 against pharmacy benefit managers Optum Rx and Express Scripts for their alleged role in enabling the opioid epidemic in the state.

“Pill by pill and dollar by dollar, PBMs enabled the opioid epidemic in Arkansas," Mr. Griffin wrote in a news release. "Today, we begin the process of holding them accountable for their roles in a crisis that has ravaged our state—a crisis they helped cause, contributed to, and furthered."

The lawsuit alleges that the UnitedHealth Group and Cigna Group subsidiaries increased opioid use by placing opioids on lower formulary tiers, operated online retail pharmacies that dispensed morphine milligram equivalents of opioids, and were aware of the epidemic but failed to act.

"Optum did not cause the opioid crisis or make it worse, and we will defend ourselves in this litigation," an Optum spokesperson told Becker's. "Optum takes the opioid epidemic seriously and has taken a comprehensive approach to fight this issue, including the Opioid Risk Management Program available to all Optum Rx clients, to address opioid abuse and promote patient health."

A specific amount of damages wasn't sought in the lawsuit, but the attorney general is asking for full restitution to the state and an abatement of the alleged public nuisance that was created.

"The PBMs benefited financially from the opioid crisis in Arkansas by negotiating favorable deals with opioid manufacturers while at the same time forgetting the interests of Arkansans who received prescriptions," Mr. Griffin said. "Instead of protecting consumers by leveraging data to curb excessive prescriptions, PBMs focused on the financial incentives of manufacturer rebates to drive profits at the expense of people."

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