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CVS, Walmart and Walgreens are responsible for roles in the opioid crisis, the jury finds




CLEVELAND – Three pharmacy chains ruthlessly distributed huge amounts of painkillers in two Ohio counties, a federal jury said Tuesday in a ruling that could set the tone for U.S. city and county officials who want to hold pharmacies accountable for their roles in the opioid crisis.

The counties accused the pharmacies operated by CVS, Walgreens and Walmart of not stopping the flood of pills that caused hundreds of overdose deaths and cost each of the two counties around $ 1 billion, their lawyer said.

This was the first time pharmacy companies completed a lawsuit to defend themselves in a drug crisis that has killed half a million Americans in the last two decades. How much the pharmacies have to pay in compensation will be decided in the spring by a federal judge.

Lake and Trumbull counties managed to convince the jury that pharmacies played a major role in creating a public nuisance in the way they dispensed painkillers in their communities.

Lawyers for the three pharmacy chains claimed that they had guidelines to stop the flow of pills when their pharmacists had any concerns and wanted to notify the 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.

Two other chains ̵[ads1]1; Rite Aid and Giant Eagle – have already settled lawsuits with the two Ohio counties.

Lawyer Mark Lanier, who represented the counties in the trial, said during the trial that the pharmacies tried to blame everyone but themselves.

The opioid crisis has overwhelmed courts, social services and law enforcement in Ohio’s blue corner east of Cleveland, leaving heartbroken families and babies born to dependent mothers, Lanier told jurors.

Approximately 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016 – the equivalent of 400 per capita.

In Lake County, about 61 million pills were dispensed during this period.

The rise in doctors prescribing painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone came at a time when medical groups were beginning to recognize that patients have the right to be treated for pain, said Kaspar Stoffelmayr, a lawyer for Walgreens, at the opening of the trial.

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

The counties said that pharmacies should be the last line of defense to prevent the pills from falling into the wrong hands.

The staff did not employ enough pharmacists and technicians or trained them to stop it from happening and failed to implement systems that could flag suspicious orders, Lanier said.

The trial of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland was part of a broader constellation of federal opioid lawsuits – around 3,000 in total – that has been consolidated under the judge’s supervision. Other cases go on in state courts.

It was one of five attempts so far this year in the United States to test claims made by governments against parts of the pharmaceutical industry over tariffs on prescription painkillers.

Trials against drug manufacturers in New York and distribution companies in the state of Washington are now underway. A lawsuit against distribution companies in West Virginia has been closed, but the judge has not yet ruled.

Earlier in November, a judge in California ruled in favor of the best drug manufacturers in a lawsuit involving three counties and the city of Oakland. The judge said the authorities had not proven that pharmaceutical companies used misleading marketing to increase unnecessary opioids and create a public nuisance.

Also in November, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a 2019 ruling of $ 465 million in a lawsuit filed by the state against drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson.

Other trials have resulted in major settlements or proposed settlements before the trials were completed.



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