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‘Flooding Communities With Pills’: Pharmacy Chains Found Responsible For Ohio Opioid Crisis

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MIAMI - JANUARY 08: A Walgreens store is seen on the day the second-largest U.S. drugstore chain, said it will eliminate 1,000 positions, or about 9 percent of those employed in corporate and field management on January 8, 2009 in Miami, Florida. Walgreen Co. said the layoffs are part of a plan to achieve $1 billion in annual savings by the year ending in August 2011.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Several pharmacy chains, including Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens have been found partially responsible by a federal jury for two counties’ opioid crises in Ohio.

“This decision was the first ever ruling against the retail pharmacy industry, and could set the tone for countless other lawsuits across the country that seek to hold pharmacies responsible for the flood of highly addictive opioid pills into communities,” The Hill reported

Reports indicate that opioid addiction has led to the deaths of about half a million Americans.

“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,” said the plaintiffs who want a payout of about $1 billion to both Lake and Trumbell counties in Ohio. 

District Judge Dan Polster will make the determination about what amount the companies will pay. The case he heard is a “test case” for similar suits and complaints in the region. 

“The judgment today against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance,” the plaintiffs added, although the companies disagreed. 

“[T]he simple facts are that opioid prescriptions are written by doctors, not pharmacists; opioid medications are made and marketed by manufacturers, not pharmacists; and our health care system depends on pharmacists to fill legitimate prescriptions that doctors deem necessary for their patients,” Mike DeAngelis of CVS said in a statement. 

DeAngelis said that CVS would appeal the ruling and disagreed with the application of the public nuisance law. 

Similarly, a Walmart spokesperson said the case was “riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes.”

The decision comes after some large pharmaceutical companies, like Johnson and Johnson, have so far escaped legal consequences. Last month the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a decision that would have required Johnson and Johnson to pay $465 million for its role in the opium epidemic. 

In that case, the court decided that public nuisance laws did not apply to those specific circumstances. 

“The district court stepping into the shoes of the legislature by creating and funding government programs designed to address social and health issues goes too far,” the majority wrote. 

The Ohio case was significant as it was the first time retailers like CVS have been in court over the opioid case. 

“It’s the first opioid trial against these major household names,” Adam Zimmerman of Loyola Law School told The New York Times. “They have been the least willing group of defendants to settle, so this verdict is at least a small sign to them that these cases won’t necessarily play out well in front of juries.”

J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Ohio, has made the opioid crisis a focus of his campaign.

“Opioid addiction has devastated my family and my community. More and more Ohioans are falling victim to addiction, which means an entire generation of children orphaned, and another generation of grandparents forced to step up for our community’s kids,” Vance says on his website.

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