When a driver, high on painkillers, ran her car into two guys fixing a flat tire on the side of the highway, killing one of them, the victims' families filed a lawsuit—against the pharmacies that sold the painkillers. That case, pending before the Nevada Supreme Court, will be the first to address whether pharmacies, which now have access to online prescription-tracking databases, should be held responsible for enabling drug abusers. The defendants—including Wal-Mart, CVS and Walgreens—are worried.
A year before the accident, Nevada’s controlled substance taskforce sent a letter warning pharmacies that 35-year-old Patricia Copening had recently purchased huge doses of painkillers. But the letter didn’t contain specific instructions, and many continued filling Copening’s prescriptions. It’s a go-to case for those pushing pharmacies to use new information from prescription-tracking databases to blow the whistle on abusers. But the chains say that if the lawsuit succeeds, they’ll have to raise prices, stop stocking certain painkillers, and refuse potentially legitimate customers.