Three major US pharmacy chains did not do enough to stop an overdose of highly addictive opioid pills from flooding two Ohio counties, a jury in a landmark trial found Tuesday.
CVS, Walgreens and Walmart caused a public outcry by allowing their pharmacies to distribute 140 million prescription painkillers in just two counties, a jury ruled in a verdict that saw thousands against pharmacies and opioid distributors nationwide. Similar lawsuits are likely to have implications. ,
It was the first time major pharmacies had completed a trial in which they were accused of fueling a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 Americans.
Attorney Mark Lanier, representing Lake and Trumbull counties in the lawsuit, argued that the companies had a responsibility to prevent bullets from falling into the wrong hands. He called it “the most important case in the history of pharmacy”.
“A pharmacy is not a gum ball machine,” he said in the closing arguments. “They have more responsibility than just taking your money and making you take your pills.”
“The jury rang a bell that must be heard through all pharmacies in America,” Mr Lanier said after the verdict.
It is now up to US District Judge Dan Pollster to decide how much the companies will be liable to pay in damages.
The case is one of thousands brought by local and state governments nationwide against companies that played a role in manufacturing and distributing opioid pills. The county and the city of Huntingdon in West Virginia, once considered ground zero of the opioid crisis, are currently awaiting a verdict in a lawsuit against the “big three” opioid distributors — Cardinal Health, McKesson and Amerisource Bergen.
The court heard that approximately 80 million prescription painkillers were given in Trumbull County between 2012 and 2016, amounting to 400 for each resident. A further 61 million pills were distributed in Lake County during the same period. The crisis caused hundreds of deaths as overdoses skyrocketed, and cost both countries $1bn.
The jury found in favor of the two counties, which argued that pharmacies caused a public nuisance by not stopping the flow of pills in such large numbers.
The decision comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control announced a record number of drug overdose deaths in the past 12 months for which data were available. Provisional data found 100,000 people died between May 2020 and April 2021, an increase of about 30 percent from a year earlier, primarily driven by an increase in deaths linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The pharmacies had argued during the trial that they had extensive measures in place to prevent suspicious orders from being distributed, and said it was up to doctors – not pharmacies – to decide who needed the drug.
A Walgreens attorney, Kaspar Stoffelmayr, said at the start of the lawsuit that the reason the crisis spiraled out of control was because “drug makers tricked doctors into prescribing too many pills.”
CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in a statement: “As the plaintiffs’ own experts testify, many factors have contributed to the issue of opioid abuse, and all stakeholders in our health care system need to address this problem.” And will require the participation of all members of our community.”
Walgreen’s spokesman Fraser Engerman said: “As we’ve said throughout this process, we never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and Internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis.” .
“Plaintiffs’ attempt to resolve the opioid crisis with the unprecedented expansion of public nuisance legislation is misguided and untenable,” he said.
Walmart said in a statement that the trial was “in favor of plaintiffs’ lawyers and was fraught with notable legal and factual inaccuracies.”
“Plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart looking for deep pockets while ignoring the true causes of the opioid crisis — such as pill mill doctors, illegal drugs, and sleeping on regulatory switches — and they wrongly claimed that Pharmacists must be a way doctors guess. The law was never intended and interferes with doctor-patient relationships, say many federal and state health regulators,” the statement added.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk / opioid crisis