Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images
A federal jury in Cleveland ruled Tuesday that three of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains: CVS Health, Walmart and Walgreens contributed substantially to the opioid overdose crisis and deaths in two Ohio counties.
It is the first time that a court ruling has held the retail segment of the pharmaceutical industry responsible for a decades-long epidemic.
The trial judge will determine how much each company could pay the counties, after hearings not yet scheduled.
New federal data released last week shows that deaths from illegal opioid overdoses such as heroin and street fentanyl have reached record levels during the pandemic.
The verdict, the first by a jury in an opioid case, can be encouraging to plaintiffs in thousands of legal proceedings across the country that are based on the same legal strategy employed in this case.
In other words, the pharmaceutical companies contributed to a “public nuisance,” a term that encompasses the public health crisis created by opioids, as argued by the plaintiff.
That same argument was rejected twice this month, by judges in California and Oklahoma in cases against opioid manufacturers, who ruled that the companies’ activities were too far removed from overdoses and deaths, and that this public nuisance law enforcement it had spread beyond recognition.
But in this case, brought by Lake and Trumbull counties in Northeast Ohio, attorneys used legal theory with success, arguing that for years, the pharmacies turned a blind eye to countless red flags about suspicious opioid orders.
This lack of oversight came both at the local patient desk and at their corporate headquarters, the requirements of which were, according to Mark Lanier, the counties’ lead trial attorney, “Too little, too late.”
* Why CVS will close hundreds of pharmacies in the next few years
* Deaths and Desperate Solutions: Echoes of America’s Overdose Epidemic
* Drug overdose deaths exceed 100,000 a year for the first time, driven by fentanyl