Walmart, Walgreens, CVS fined $650M in US opioid case

It was the first time pharmacy companies completed a trial to defend themselves in a drug crisis that has killed a half-million Americans since 1999. (Photo: AP)

A federal judge in Cleveland has awarded $650 million in damages to two Ohio counties that prevailed in a historic lawsuit against US pharmacy giants CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, alleging that how they supplied opioids to customers caused significant harm to local communities.

In his Wednesday judgment, US District Judge Dan Polster stated that the funds would be utilized to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic in Lake and Trumbull counties outside of Cleveland. Attorneys for the counties estimated that the damages to each county would cost $1 billion.

According to plaintiffs' attorneys from the Lanier Law Firm, the sanctions will reflect the firms' "roles in failing to control the spread of deadly and addictive prescription opioids,"

More than 500 opioid overdose deaths in the two counties between 2015 and 2019 "could be directly or indirectly linked" to prescription opioids or painkillers, according to testimony submitted during the litigation, as stated by the Lanier firm.

Allocation of damages

Lake County will get $306 million over the next fifteen years, and Trumbull County will receive $444 million throughout the same time frame. Polster mandated that the corporations pay almost $87 million for the first two years.

After a six-week trial, the jury ruled in favor of the counties in November. Polster was then tasked with determining how much the counties should receive from the three pharmacies. In May, he heard testimony to determine how much damage compensation the counties should receive.

Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas, Walgreens in Illinois, and CVS in Rhode Island.

The counties persuaded the jury that pharmacies played a disproportionate role in generating a public nuisance in their towns by dispensing pain medicine.

It was the first time pharmacy firms successfully defended themselves in court during a drug crisis that has killed 500,000 Americans since 1999.

Chain pharmacies avoid blame

Attorneys for the pharmacy companies asserted that they had policies to restrict the flow of medicines if their pharmacists expressed concerns. They further stated that doctors, not pharmacies, controlled the number of medications prescribed for valid medical purposes.

After the trial, the pharmacy chains stated they would appeal the jury's verdict.

Before trial, Rite Aid and Giant Eagle settled claims with the counties. Their payment amounts have not been made public.

Lanier told the jury that the opioid epidemic has overloaded courts, social service organizations, and law enforcement in Ohio's blue-collar region east of Cleveland, leaving behind distraught families and kids born to addicted mothers.

400 pills per resident in 4 years

In Trumbull County alone, about 80 million prescription opioids were dispensed between 2012 and 2016, or 400 per citizen. During that time, around 61 million pills were distributed in Lake County.

The increase in physicians prescribing pain drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone is due to the recognition by medical groups that patients have the right to be treated for pain, an attorney representing Walgreens stated at the trial's beginning.

The counties asserted that pharmacies should be the final line of defense against medicines falling into the wrong hands.

The trial before Polster was one of roughly 3,000 federal opioid claims consolidated under his supervision.

State courts are proceeding with additional cases.

Publish : 2022-08-18 07:37:00

Give Your Comments