By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman filed a lawsuit Monday against one of the nation’s largest grocery chains, claiming its pharmacies helped fuel the state’s deadly opioid addiction crisis.

The lawsuit against the Kroger Co. says its more than 100 Kentucky pharmacies were responsible for over 11% of all opioid pills dispensed in the state between 2006 and 2019. It amounted to hundreds of millions of doses inundating Kentucky communities without reasonable safeguards, the suit said.

“For more than a decade, Kroger flooded Kentucky with an almost unthinkable number of opioid pills that directly led to addiction, pain and death,” Coleman said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed in Bullitt County Circuit Court in Shepherdsville, 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Louisville. Among other things, the suit is seeking civil penalties of $2,000 against the grocery chain for each alleged willful violation of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act.

Kroger officials did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Monday.

The Bluegrass State has been hard hit by the nation’s overdose crisis, and a series of Kentucky attorneys general from both political parties — including now-Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat — aggressively pursued legal action against companies that make or distribute opioid-based medication. Coleman, a Republican who took office at the start of this year, continued the trend with his suit against Kroger — a prominent corporate brand in Kentucky.

Overdose fatalities in Kentucky surpassed 2,000 again in 2022 but were down from the prior year, Beshear said in a 2023 announcement. Increased use of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid — is blamed as a key factor behind the state’s chronically high overdose death toll.

The new lawsuit claims that Kroger failed to implement any effective monitoring program to stop suspicious opioid orders. As a distributor and dispenser, Kroger had access to real-time data revealing unusual prescribing patterns, Coleman’s office said. Despite such “red flags,” Kroger did not report a single suspicious prescription in Kentucky between 2007 and 2014, the AG’s office said.

“Kroger, which families have trusted for so long, knowingly made these dangerous and highly addictive substances all too accessible,” Coleman said. “Worst of all, Kroger never created a formal system, a training or even a set of guidelines to report suspicious activity or abuse.”

The suit alleges Kroger bought more than four billion morphine milligram equivalents of opioids for Kentucky between 2006 and 2019, roughly equivalent to 444 million opioid doses. The company distributed almost 194 million hydrocodone pills to its Kentucky pharmacies between 2006 and 2019, the suit said.