Jury holds pharmacies responsible for role in opioid crisis

CLEVELAND , -- A federal jury found that three retail pharmacie chains distributed large quantities of opioid pain pills in Ohio counties. This verdict could be a wake-up call for U.S. cities and county governments who want to hold the drug companies accountable for the opioid crisis.

Jury holds pharmacies responsible for role in opioid crisis

CLEVELAND , -- A federal jury found that three retail pharmacie chains distributed large quantities of opioid pain pills in Ohio counties. This verdict could be a wake-up call for U.S. cities and county governments who want to hold the drug companies accountable for the opioid crisis.

Their attorney stated that the counties blamed Walgreens, CVS and Walmart for failing to stop the overdose deaths from hundreds of overdoses, which cost them about $1 billion each.

This was the first time that pharmacy companies had been allowed to testify in court. They were being sued for their role in the drug crisis that claimed the lives of half a million Americans over the last two decades. A federal judge will decide how much damages the pharmacies have to pay.

Trumbull and Lake counties were able convince the jury that pharmacies played an over-sized role in creating a nuisance in their communities by the way they dispenssed pain medication.

"The law requires that pharmacies be careful when dealing with drugs. "This case should serve as a warning that failure is not acceptable," Mark Lanier, an attorney representing the counties, said.

Lanier stated, "The jury sounded an alarm that should be heard in all American pharmacies."

The attorneys representing the three pharmacie chains said they had policies in place to stop the flow of pills. If pharmacists have concerns, they would inform authorities. They claimed that it was the doctors who determined how many pills were prescribed for legitimate medical reasons.

Spokespeople from CVSHealth, Walgreen Co. stated that the companies disagreed with the verdict and would appeal.

"As the plaintiffs' experts have testified, there are many factors that contributed to the opioid abuse problem. Solving this problem will require participation from all stakeholders in our healthcare system and all members our community," Mike DeAngelis, a spokesperson for CVS, stated in a statement.

Fraser Engerman, spokesperson for Walgreen, stated that the company believes that the court committed an error by allowing the case before a jury on a flawed theory that was inconsistent with Ohio law.

Engerman stated in a statement that "We never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did they distribute them to the pill mills and internet pharmacies that fuel this crisis." "The plaintiffs' attempt at resolving the opioid crisis by a unprecedented expansion of public nuisance laws is unsustainable and misguided."

Two other chains, Giant Eagle and Rite Aid -- have already settled lawsuits against the two Ohio counties.

Lanier stated during the trial, that pharmacies tried to blame everyone except themselves.

Lanier explained to jurors that the opioid crisis has overwhelmed Ohio's courts, social service agencies, and law enforcement in Ohio’s blue-collar area east of Cleveland. It left behind devastated families and children born to addicted mothers.

Between 2012 and 2016, Trumbull County received approximately 80 million prescriptions -- that's 400 pills per resident.

Some 61 million pills were distributed in Lake County during this period.

At the beginning of the trial, Kaspar Stoffelmayr (walgreens attorney) stated that doctors began prescribing pain medication such as oxycodone or hydrocodone to patients.

He said that the problem was that doctors were being tricked by pharmaceutical manufacturers into prescribing too many pills.

According to the counties, pharmacies should be the last line for defense against the pills falling into the wrong hands.

Lanier stated that they didn't have enough pharmacists or technicians to prevent this from happening, and that they failed to implement systems to flag suspicious orders.

Before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, the trial in Cleveland was one of a larger constellation of federal opioid lawsuits (about 3,000 total) that were consolidated under the supervision of the judge. State courts are also handling other cases.

This was one of five trials this year in the U.S. that tested claims made by governments against certain parts of the drug sector over the death rates of prescription painkillers.

Now are being held trials against New York drugmakers and Washington state distribution companies. Although the trial against West Virginia distribution companies has concluded, the judge has yet to render a verdict.

In a case involving three counties in California and the city Oakland, a judge in California ruled in favor top drug manufacturer in November. Judge said that it wasn't clear that pharmaceutical companies had used deceptive marketing to increase opioid prescriptions and create an environmental nuisance.

In November, Oklahoma's Supreme Court affirmed a 2019 judgment of $465 million in a lawsuit brought by the state against Johnson & Johnson.

Some lawsuits resulted in large settlements, or proposals for settlements, before the trials were concluded.

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