Walgreens: The On-Going Crisis

Ian Mitroff
4 min readMar 20, 2023

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

If ever an organization showed how to create a Crisis for itself and others, Walgreens is it.

It’s highly doubtful whether it can recover.

One of the key factors in all Crises are all of the major players — Stakeholders — who affect and are affected by it. In large part, Walgreens’ Crisis is due to the fact that it failed to take them into serious consideration. As a result, it’s suffering the consequences. It’s thereby a lesson for all other organizations, no matter what their business. The question is always whether they will learn from it or dismiss it by saying that it has nothing to do with them.

In compiling the list of relevant Stakeholders, I’m indebted to The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle for their admirable reports and analyses of the situation[i].

First and foremost, among the primary Stakeholders are the Republican Attorney Generals in 21 States that have threatened Legal action against Walgreens if they try to distribute Mifepristone, one of the major medications that are used provide Abortions.

Walgreens is of course a primary Stakeholder in the whole affair. More specifically, Fraser Engleman, a Spokesman for Walgreens, who distributed the message that the chain would dispense the drug if State Laws allowed it, is as well.

A major Stakeholder is Governor Gavin Newsom of California who declared that the State would discontinue its multimillion-dollar contract with the company. He charged the company with caving into Extremists thereby cutting off women’s access to reproductive care and their Rights. To which Wall Street, another key Stakeholder, reacted sharply. Thus, Walgreens’ stock was down some 3 percent.

Summing up thus far, the Crisis was not only Financial, but a serious PR and Political one as well, thereby confirming one of the major features of all Crises. Namely, no Crisis is Ever a single Crisis. It’s nothing less than a series of multiple, highly interrelated Crises. Indeed, each of the Crises are both the cause and effects of one another.

All of this is a prelude to the role of other Stakeholders. Without a doubt one of the most arcane is Anthony Comstock, a religious fundamentalist, who in 1873 gave rise to a Federal Law named after him. The Comstock Act made it a crime to distribute by mail any medication that could be used for preventing conception or inducing Abortions.

Shaunna Thomas, Executive Director of UltraViolet, a Feminist group, said of Walgreens that while it clarified why it was doing what it did, it did not say enough to dispel the fear that it caused. In response to a petition by her group, some 75,000 said that they are in favor of asking all pharmacies to continue providing Mifepristone and to stop doing business with Walgreens.

Among the other Stakeholders are the other major pharmacies such as CVS and Rite Aid, who have yet to declare where they stand. The FDA is involved as well. Indeed, it’s being sued in Texas by Abortion opponents who claim that it failed to consider the dangers of the medication when it approved it.

In addition, the Justice Department said that the 1873 Comstock Law did not prohibit the mailing of Mifepristone or other medications to any State unless the “sender intends them to be used for unlawful purposes”.

Even the most cursory review of the above is enough to establish that virtually all of the Stakeholders are not on Walgreens’ side. It’s what makes a Crisis a Crisis.

On a personal note, my local Walgreens in Berkeley where I live has been going out of business for weeks. So much so that I’ve switched to another chain. It’s closed on the weekends, and it’s been closed on and off for weeks so that it’s clearly in trouble. Retaining Pharmacists is a big part of the problem.

We live in troubled times marked by Crisis after Crisis. Sadly, I see little evidence that we’re becoming better prepared by learning from previous Crises.

[i] Pam Belluck and Julie Creswell, “Walgreens Under Fire for Not Offering Abortion Pill in 21 States,” The New York Times, Wednesday, March 8, 2023, PP B1 and B5; Sophia Bollag and Bob Egelko, “No Renewal for Walgreens deal,” The San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, March 9, 2023, PP A1 and A7.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay