Pharmacies CVS, Walgreens and Walmart have recklessly distributed massive amounts of pain relievers across two Ohio counties, a federal jury said Tuesday in a verdict that could set the tone for U.S. city and county officials looking to hold pharmacies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis. …
Lake and Trumbull counties have accused three network pharmacies of not stopping the pill flow that has resulted in hundreds of overdose deaths and cost each of the two counties about $ 1 billion, their attorney said.
In the spring, a federal judge will decide how much the pharmacies must pay in damages.
It was the first time that drugstore companies have ended legal action to protect themselves from the drug crisis that has killed half a million Americans in the past two decades.
The counties succeeded in convincing the jury that pharmacies played a huge role in creating a social inconvenience to the way they distributed pain medication in their communities.
“The law requires pharmacies to carefully sell medicines. This case should be a wake-up call that the waiver will not be accepted, ”said Mark Lanier, district attorney.
“The jury sounded a bell that should be heard in all pharmacies in America,” Lanier said.
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Lawyers for the three drugstore chains have argued that they have policies to restrict the flow of pills when their pharmacists have any concerns and will notify authorities of suspicious orders from doctors. They also said that it was the doctors who controlled how many pills were prescribed for legitimate medical needs.
Representatives of CVSHealth and Walgreen Co. said the companies disagree with the verdict and will appeal.
“As the plaintiffs’ own experts have shown, many factors have contributed to the opioid abuse problem, and addressing this problem will require the participation of all stakeholders in our healthcare system and all members of our community,” CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in a statement.
Walgreen spokesman Fraser Engerman said the company believes the court erred by “allowing a jury to try the case on the basis of a flawed legal theory that is incompatible with Ohio law.”
“As we said during this process, we have never manufactured or sold opioids or distributed them to the ‘pill factories’ and online pharmacies that fueled this crisis,” Engerman said in a statement. “The plaintiffs’ attempt to resolve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of public disorder law is flawed and unacceptable.”
Two other networks – Rite Aid and Giant Eagle – have already settled legal disputes with two Ohio counties.
Lanier said during the trial that the pharmacies tried to blame everyone but themselves.
The opioid crisis has gripped courts, social service agencies and law enforcement in Ohio’s blue-collar area east of Cleveland, leaving heartbroken families and children born to dependent mothers behind, Lanier told jurors.
About 80 million prescription pain relievers were issued in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016, equivalent to 400 per resident.
About 61 million tablets were distributed in Lake County during this period.
The increase in doctors prescribing pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone came at a time when medical groups began to recognize that patients were eligible for pain treatment, Walgreens attorney Kaspar Stoffelmire said at the opening of the trial.
The problem, he said, was that “pharmaceutical manufacturers tricked doctors into writing too many pills.”
The counties said pharmacies should be the last line of defense to prevent pills from falling into the wrong hands.
Lanier said they did not hire and train enough pharmacists and technicians to prevent this from happening, and they failed to implement systems that could identify suspicious orders.
The trial of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland was part of a broader cluster of federal opioid trials – about 3,000 in total – that were merged under the supervision of a judge. The rest of the cases are considered in state courts.
Kevin Roy, director of public policy at Shatterproof, an organization that advocates for tackling addiction, said the verdict could force pharmacies to follow the path of large distribution companies and some drug manufacturers that have achieved a nationwide settlement of billions of opioids.
So far, no pharmacy has reached the nationwide settlement.
“This is a signal that the public, at least in some places, feels that a revelation has occurred and that needs to be corrected,” Roy said.
The local government lawyers’ committee, which has filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry in federal courts, called Tuesday’s verdict “an important victory.”
“For decades, drugstore chains have watched pills falling out of their doors cause harm and are not taking action as required by law,” the plaintiffs’ executive committee said in a statement. “Instead, these companies have responded by opening up more locations, flooding communities with pills and facilitating the flow of opioids into the illegal secondary market. Today’s judgment against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents a belated payback for their complicity in creating a public nuisance. ”
Government lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies are subject to state and local public order laws.
Roy noted that the courts are ambivalent about whether these laws apply to such cases. “There have been many different decisions made recently that should give us a reason to be wary of what this really means in the grand scheme,” he said.
Two recent decisions contradict theory. And more and more cases go to making decisions.
Lawsuits are pending against drug manufacturers in New York and distribution companies in Washington state. The lawsuit against the distribution companies in West Virginia has ended, but the judge has yet to deliver a verdict.
Earlier in November, a California judge ruled in favor of leading drug manufacturers in a three-county and Oakland City lawsuit. The judge said governments had failed to prove that pharmaceutical companies were using deceptive marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and inconvenience society.
Also in November, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a 2019 judgment of $ 465 million in a lawsuit filed by the state against drug maker Johnson & Johnson.
Other lawsuits have resulted in major or proposed settlement agreements pending the conclusion of the lawsuits.
The Cleveland jury’s decision had little impact on CVS, Walgreens and Walmart stocks. Shares of all three companies rose on Tuesday. CVS and Walgreens are up 36% and 19% this year, respectively.