On November 23, 2021, a federal jury determined that CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart pharmacies created a public nuisance by recklessly distributing massive amounts of opioid pills in two Ohio counties. The amount of damages the two Ohio counties may receive as a result is scheduled to be determined by a federal judge in the Spring of 2022.
Lake County and Trumbull County in Ohio argued that the three pharmacy chains were partially responsible for their roles in not stopping the massive amounts of opioid painkiller pills that flowed into their counties and caused hundreds of opioid overdose deaths. The two Ohio counties allege that the opioid crisis has cost each of them about $1 billion. Approximately 80 million prescription opioid painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County between 2012 and 2016, which is equivalent to 400 pills for every resident. During the same time period, approximately 61 million opioid painkiller pills were distributed in Lake County.
The two Ohio counties argued that retail pharmacies should be the last line of defense to prevent the pills from getting into the wrong hands, and that the pharmacies failed to employ enough pharmacists and technicians, and properly train them, and failed to implement systems that could flag suspicious opioid prescriptions.
The defendants argued that they had in place policies to stem the flow of opioid pills if their pharmacists had any concerns and that they would notify authorities about suspicious opioid prescriptions from doctors. The defendants further argued that the doctors who prescribed opioids controlled how many pills were being prescribed for legitimate medical needs.
A spokesperson for CVS stated after the verdict was reached, “As plaintiffs’ own experts testified, many factors have contributed to the opioid abuse issue, and solving this problem will require involvement from all stakeholders in our health care system and all members of our community.”
A spokesperson for Walgreens stated after the verdict, “As we have said throughout this process, we never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis. The plaintiffs’ attempt to resolve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law is misguided and unsustainable.”
While no pharmacy chain has reached a global settlement with regard to approximately 3,000 federal opioid lawsuits that are pending before the same federal judge in Clerveland, Ohio, Rite Aid and Giant Eagle have both settled opioid lawsuits with the two Ohio counties.
The plaintiffs’ executive committee involved with the pending federal opioid lawsuits stated after the verdict, “For decades, pharmacy chains have watched as the pills flowing out of their doors cause harm and failed to take action as required by law. Instead, these companies responded by opening up more locations, flooding communities with pills, and facilitating the flow of opioids into an illegal, secondary market. The judgment today against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance.”
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