A US pharmacy chain is considering ending sales of some prescription drugs, including some used to treat cancer, as it continues to struggle with a rising overdose rate.
The announcement by Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which has faced calls to close pharmacies and reduce the size of its workforce in recent years, follows a sharp rise in overdoses at its pharmacy network.
About 15% of Wal-Marts in the US sell certain kinds of opioids, including fentanyl, the drug responsible for a growing number of overdoses in recent weeks, according to data compiled by the Federal Trade Commission.
Fentanyl is used to mask a person’s pain and is also used to boost heart rate and blood pressure.
Drugmakers are trying to stem the surge in overdoses and have increased testing of drugs to determine if they are effective and to help reduce the risks.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy O’Neil said in a statement that the chain has not stopped selling some products at its stores, but is “committed to helping our patients and communities.”
It said it has tested more than 200 products to ensure they are safe and effective.
Some of the drugs are being sold in other states, but most are still being imported, including for use by emergency responders.
The company has not said how it plans to deal with the rising overdose rates, which have caused widespread concern about the nation’s opioid epidemic.
About 30% of Americans have used opioids, according the CDC, while the rate is rising in some parts of the country, particularly in states that have embraced the use of prescription opioids.
The opioid crisis has caused a spike in deaths from overdoses, which are among the leading causes of death in the United States.
Walmart said last month it would phase out sales of prescription painkillers and other opioids in some stores, citing an increasing demand.
A spokesman said in the statement that it is a matter for the pharmacy chain and not the federal government.