YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Local doctors, a pharmacist and almost every Rite Aid location in the Valley are mentioned in a lawsuit against Rite Aid and its alleged role in the opioid epidemic.
The initial complaint against the retail drug chain filed in federal court in Cleveland by the U.S. Justice Department began in October 2019, but new, amended complaints have been filed as recently as Monday.
The lawsuit alleges that at least between 2014 and 2019 Rite Aid knew that fraudulent or at least suspect prescriptions for controlled substances were being filled in its pharmacies and did nothing about it. The lawsuit also alleges that stopgaps in Rite Aid’s flagging system were ignored or circumvented to meet metrics that the pharmacy chain established for pharmacists.
Local doctors Jorge Martinez, Boardman; William Paloski, Youngstown; Martin Escobar, Lake Milton; Michael Bengala, Canfield; and Philip Wagman, New Castle, are named as examples of what is being characterized by the lawsuit as the rampant way that the drug retailer put profits over procedures and filled unlawful prescriptions while failing to red flag over-prescribing by physicians.
Newton Falls pharmacist Robert Graves is also mentioned in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that hundreds of thousands of unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances that were medically unnecessary, lacked a medically accepted indication or were not issued in the usual course of professional practice, fed an opioid epidemic that claimed thousands of lives.
Characterized as “gatekeepers,” the lawsuit alleges that Rite Aid Pharmacies could have or should have prevented the unlawful dispensing of controlled substances.
Rite Aid filled prescriptions for powerful opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone, fentanyl and other highly diverted controlled substances that were later deemed unlawful and medically unnecessary through investigations by the DEA.
In its actions, the lawsuit claims that Rite Aid violated its legal obligations and significantly contributed to this country’s opioid crisis.
Doctors, pharmacies and pharmacists across Ohio are mentioned in the lawsuit painting a picture of pill mills that remained unchecked by Rite Aid and in some instances ignored.
Ohio has one of the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths in the country. In 2015, Ohio ranked No. 1 in the nation in overdose deaths due to opioids. In 2017, it ranked No. 2.
The latest filing in the lawsuit is with a jury demand. No further court dates were listed for the litigation.