Jury holds CVS, Walgreens and Walmart responsible for role in opioid crisis

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  • A federal jury said Tuesday that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies negligently distributed large amounts of pain pills in two Ohio counties.
  • The decision could set the tone for US city and county governments that want to hold pharmacies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.
  • His lawyer said the counties blamed the three pharmacies for not stopping the flood of bullets, which caused hundreds of deaths and cost the two counties nearly $1 billion each.

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CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies recklessly distributed massive amounts of pain pills in two Ohio counties, a federal jury said Tuesday in a ruling that could set the tone for U.S. city and county governments dealing with their opioid crisis. Wants to hold pharmacies accountable for roles. ,

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His attorney said Lake and Trumbull counties blamed the three chain pharmacies for not stopping the flood of bullets, which caused hundreds of deaths and cost the two counties nearly $1 billion each.

How much the pharmacies will have to pay in damages will be decided by a federal judge in the spring.

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It was the first time pharmacy companies had completed a trial to defend themselves in the drug crisis that has killed half a million Americans over the past two decades.

The counties were able to convince the jury that pharmacies played a big part in causing a public nuisance in the way they dispense pain medication in their communities.

“The law requires that pharmacies be diligent in handling drugs. This matter should be a wake-up call that failure will not be acknowledged,” said Mark Lanier, an attorney for the counties.

“The jury rang a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America,” Lanier said.

Lawyers for the three pharmacy chains said their pharmacists have policies in place to stop the flow of pills when they have a concern and will notify authorities about suspicious orders from doctors. He also said that it was the doctors who controlled how many pills were being prescribed for legitimate medical needs.

CVSHealth and Walgreen Co. A spokesman for the company said the companies disagreed with the decision and would appeal.

CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in a statement, “As testified by plaintiffs’ own experts, many factors have contributed to the issue of opioid abuse, and all stakeholders in our health care system need to address this problem.” And will require the participation of all members of our community.” ,

Walgreen’s spokesman Fraser Engerman said the company believed the court made a mistake “by allowing the case to go before a jury on a faulty legal principle inconsistent with Ohio law.”

“As we have said throughout this process, we never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to ‘pill mills’ and the Internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis,” Engerman said in a statement. said. “Plaintiffs’ attempt to solve the opioid crisis with the unprecedented expansion of public nuisance legislation is misguided and untenable.”

Two other series – Rite Aid and Giant Eagle – cases were already settled With two Ohio counties.

Lanier said during the trial that the pharmacies were trying to blame everyone but themselves.

The opioid crisis has overwhelmed the courts, social services agencies and law enforcement in Ohio’s blue-collar corner east of Cleveland, leaving behind heartbroken families and children born to addicted mothers, Lanier told jurors. .

Between 2012 and 2016 nearly 80 million prescription painkillers were distributed in Trumbull County alone – the equivalent of 400 for each resident.

In Lake County, approximately 61 million pills were distributed during that period.

The increase in physicians prescribing painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone came at a time when medical groups began to recognize that patients have a right to seek pain treatment, Kaspar Stoffelmeier, an attorney for Walgreens, said at the trial’s opening. .

The problem, he said, was that “pharmaceutical manufacturers tricked doctors into prescribing too many pills.”

Counties said pharmacies should be the last line of defense to prevent pills from getting into the wrong hands.

Lanier said he did not hire enough pharmacists and technicians or train them to prevent this from happening and failed to implement systems that could flag suspicious orders.

The trial before US District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland was part of a broader constellation of federal opioid lawsuits — about 3,000 — that have been consolidated under the judge’s supervision. Other cases are proceeding in state courts.

Kevin Roy, chief public policy officer for addiction solutions advocacy organization Shatterproof, said the decision could prompt pharmacies to follow the path of major distribution companies and some drug makers who are facing nationwide settlements of billions of opioid cases. have reached.

So far no pharmacy has reached the nationwide settlement.

“It’s a sign that the public, at least in select places, feels that exposure has happened and needs to be fixed,” Roy said.

Roy said the courts are not consistent on whether the public nuisance law is applicable in such cases. “There have been a number of different decisions recently that should give us reason to be cautious about what this really means in the grand scheme,” he said.

It was one of five trials in the US so far this year to test claims made by governments on the toll of prescription painkillers against parts of the pharmaceutical industry.

Trial against drug manufacturers and distribution companies in New York Washington State Running now. The claims lawsuit against distribution companies in West Virginia is over, but the judge has yet to deliver a ruling.

Earlier in November, a California judge ruled in favor of top drugmakers in a lawsuit with three counties and the city of Oakland. The judge said the governments have not proved that drug companies used deceptive marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and create public nuisance.

Also in November, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court reversed the 2019 verdict for $465 million in a lawsuit brought by the state against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

Other lawsuits have resulted in larger settlements or proposed settlements before trials are completed.

The jury’s decision in Cleveland had little effect on the stocks of CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. Shares of all three companies rose on Tuesday. Shares of CVS and Walgreens are up 36% and 19%, respectively, this year.

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