Pharmacist viewpoint: Punishing retailers for opioid crisis 'unacceptable'

Walmart proposed a $3.1 billion settlement for its pharmacies' role in opioid abuse, and the move has one independent pharmacist worried about unintended consequences, CBS affiliate KTVQ reported Nov. 16.

"Addiction has been a problem in society for years, and it's going to be a problem for years to come," Kyle Austin, pharmacist and owner of Pharm406 in Billings, Mont., said in the report. "For them to hold pharmacies or healthcare accountable for the situation, I find it unacceptable."

Walmart is among the large retailers that have been sued by a coalition of local governments and tribes for their alleged contribution to the nation's opioid crisis. Coalition attorneys argue the large quantities of opioid distributed by the pharmacies were diverted to the black market.

"Where the corporations got their hands caught in the cookie jar is because they move such a large volume," Mr. Austin said. "So their volume contributed to it, but they still followed the rules that were put in place by the DEA, the FDA, the boards of pharmacy, and so that buck got passed on and they're holding the major corporations accountable, probably because they're the ones with a lot of money."

The money from settlements would be used to help governments provide addiction treatment and education resources. Mr. Austin said he fears more red tape and higher costs in the wake of the settlement, which would create new barriers for patients in need of the medication.

"Logically, I think our government needs to take responsibility and do their job," he said. "So if it's the Montana board of pharmacy, they need to go in and create logical rules that doctors can follow, pharmacists can follow, and patients can still get the treatment if they need it. That's really what needs to happen. We need to stop this blame game, 'Oh, the pharmacies are responsible for the opioid pandemic.' They're not. We're here to provide this service to the patients in a reasonable manner. We just need to create those rules so the rules can be followed and patients can still get the care they need."

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