The Ohio jury blames CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart pharmacies for the opioid crisis
In a first case, a federal jury held three pharmacies responsible for their role in the distribution of opioids – a ruling that could set the tone for U.S. city and county governments wanting to hold pharmacies accountable for their contribution.
CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies ruthlessly distributed huge amounts of pain relievers in two Ohio counties, a federal jury said Tuesday. Lake and Trumbull counties blamed the three pharmacy chains for dispensing a spate of pills that caused hundreds of overdose deaths and cost each of the counties more than $ 1 billion, their attorney said.
In the next phase of the process, which is due to take place in the spring, a federal judge will decide how much compensation the pharmacies will have to pay.
“This is a landmark decision as it is the first time that these national chain pharmacies will address the opioid epidemic issues,” said Mark Lanier, a district attorney, during a news conference Tuesday. “The jury was able to evaluate the national measures taken by these pharmaceutical chains and to shout ‘inadequate’ from the rooftops,” added Lanier.
The ruling will pave the way for remedial action to address the ongoing crisis in the two Ohio counties.
It was the first time that pharmacy companyto defend oneself in a drug crisis that killed half a million Americans in the past two decades.
The counties were able to convince the jury that the pharmacies played an oversized role in the public harassment by not sufficiently restricting the dispensing of painkillers.
“The law requires pharmacies to be conscientious when handling medication. This case should be a wake up call that failure will not be accepted, ”Lanier said.
“The jury has rung a bell that can be heard in all pharmacies in America,” added Lanier.
Attorneys for the three pharmacy chains claimed they had guidelines to curb the flow of pills if their pharmacists had concerns and they would notify authorities of suspicious orders from doctors controlling the amount of pills prescribed for legitimate medical needs.
CVSHealth and Walgreen Co. spokespersons said the companies disagreed with the ruling and would appeal.
“As the plaintiffs’ experts themselves testified, many factors contributed to the opioid abuse problem and solving this problem requires the involvement of all stakeholders in our health care system and all members of our community,” CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in a statement.
“We will appeal this flawed judgment, which reflects a process that was designed to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and that was riddled with notable legal and factual errors,” Walmart said in a statement. Among these issues, one juror broke court rules by “doing her own research and sharing it with other jurors,” the company added.
“Flawed Legal Theory”
Walgreen spokesman Fraser Engerman said the company believed the court made a mistake “in allowing the case to be judged on grounds of flawed legal theory incompatible with Ohio law”.
“As we said during that process, we did not manufacture, market, or distribute opioids to the ‘pill factories’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis,” Engerman said in a statement. “Plaintiffs’ attempt to resolve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of the Public Harassment Act is misguided and unsustainable.”
Two other chains – Ritual aid and giant eagle – had already settled legal disputes with the two Ohio counties.
Lanier accused the pharmacies of putting the blame on other parties during the trial.
The opioid crisis has overwhelmed courts, social services and law enforcement agencies in Ohio’s working class corner east of Cleveland, leaving heartbroken families and babies born to addicted mothers, Lanier told jurors.
400 tablets per inhabitant
Between 2012 and 2016, about 80 million prescription pain relievers – or 400 tablets per inhabitant – were distributed in Trumbull County.
Around 61 million pills were distributed in Lake County during the same period.
Doctors increasingly began to prescribe pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone as medical groups began to recognize patients’ right to receive pain management, said Walgreens attorney Kaspar Stoffelmayr, at the opening of the study.
The problem is that “pharmaceutical manufacturers mislead doctors into writing way too many pills”.
The counties argued that pharmacies were the last line of defense to keep the pills from falling into the wrong hands.
They haven’t hired enough pharmacists and technicians or adequately trained them to prevent abuse and failed to implement systems that could report suspicious orders, Lanier said.
The trial before US District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland was part of a broader constellation of some 3,000 state opioid lawsuits that were consolidated under the judge’s supervision. Other cases continue before state courts.
“A milestone victory”
Kevin Roy, chief public policy officer at Shatterproof, an addiction solutions organization, said the ruling could lead pharmacies to follow the path of large distributors and drug manufacturers that have settled national opioid cases for billions of dollars.
So far, no pharmacy has reached a nationwide agreement.
“It is a signal that the public, at least in select locations, feels that there has been exposure and needs to be addressed,” said Roy.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys called Tuesday’s ruling “a milestone victory”.
“For decades, pharmacy chains have watched the pills pouring out their doors cause damage and have failed to take the action required by law,” plaintiffs’ board of directors said in a statement. Instead, these companies responded by opening more locations, flooding communities with pills, and facilitating the flow of opioids into an illegal secondary market. Today’s verdict against Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS is overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public sphere. “Harassment.”
Other attempts are in progress
Lawsuits are currently pending against drug manufacturers in New York and distributors in Washington State. A lawsuit against distribution companies in West Virginia has been completed, but the judge has not yet passed a verdict.
In early November, a Californian judge sided with leading drug manufacturers in a lawsuit involving three counties and the city of Oakland. The judge said the governments had failed to prove that the drug companies used fraudulent marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and create a public nuisance.
Also in November, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a 2019 ruling of $ 465 million in a state lawsuit against drug maker Johnson & Johnson.
The Cleveland jury’s decision has barely moved pharmacy stock prices. All three companies’ shares rose Tuesday. CVS and Walgreens stocks are up 36% and 19% respectively this year.