Retailers found liable in Ohio opioid case
CLEVELAND — This week a federal judge ordered CVS, Walgreens and Walmart to pay a collective $650.5 million to two counties in Ohio for their part fueling the opioid crisis in the state, a landmark ruling that lays partial blame for the epidemic on pharmacies that supplied the drugs.
U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster said the penalty must be paid over the next 15 years, the first ruling that hands down a massive monetary figure against pharmacy chains. The ruling came after a federal jury found last November that the three chains had substantially contributed to the opioid crisis, turning a blind eye to the burgeoning epidemic of abuse and dispensing pain medication without considering red flags.
The money will be used to address the ongoing opioid epidemic in Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull counties, near Cleveland. Lake County will receive about $306 million and Trumbull $344 million. The companies will also be required to increase their monitoring and reporting rules for opioid prescriptions.
Mark Lanier, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case, presented expert testimony that the two counties would need more than $3 billion to address the opioid crisis. The judge, however, said the pharmacies were just one of three major components that needed to be held accountable, the others being the drug manufacturers and drug distributors.
The $650.5 million figure represents about a third of that $3 billion, the judge said.
Walmart issued the following statement Wednesday, “plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart in search of deep pockets, and this judgment follows a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes. We will appeal.
Instead of addressing the real causes of the opioid crisis, like pill mill doctors, illegal drugs and regulators asleep at the switch, plaintiffs’ lawyers wrongly claimed that pharmacists must second-guess doctors in a way the law never intended and many federal and state health regulators say interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.
As a pharmacy industry leader in the fight against the opioid crisis, Walmart is proud of our pharmacists, who are dedicated to helping patients in the face of a tangled web of conflicting federal and state opioid guidelines.”
Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman said: “The facts and the law did not support the jury verdict last fall, and they do not support the court’s decision now.”
He said the court “committed significant legal errors in allowing the case to go before a jury on a flawed legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law and compounded those errors in reaching its ruling regarding damages.”
CVS spokesperson Michael DeAngelis said the company strongly disagreed with the court’s decision on damages as well as the underlying verdict.