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Opioid crisis: Ohio jury finds CVS, Walmart and Walgreens responsible in unprecedented lawsuit

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The civil case, brought before the Federal Court against CVS (CVS), Walmart (WMT) and Walgreens, the first time that pharmacies have been found responsible for the epidemic nationwide.

“This is a precedent-setting case,” Mark Lanier, lead counsel for Lake and Trumbull counties, told CNN Tuesday.

The damages are expected to be judged in the spring. Lanier said each county would seek more than $ 1 billion in damages. Together, the counties represent some 440,000 Ohio residents, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2018, was part of the multi-district federal litigation created that year to respond to multiple claims against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

The counties alleged that pharmacies “had abused their position of special trust and responsibility” as registered distributors of controlled drugs and, in so doing, “had fostered a black market for prescription opioids.”

Highlights from the opioid crisis

“Prescription opioid pill mills and rogue prescribers cannot channel opioids for illicit purposes without at least the tacit support and willful blindness of the defendants, if not their conscious support,” the complaint states.

In statements to CNN on Tuesday, the three drug chains said they would appeal the verdict.

“We are disappointed with the outcome of this trial. The facts and the law do not support the verdict. We believe the trial court made significant legal errors in allowing the case to go to a jury on a flawed legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law, “Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman told CNN.

“As we have said throughout this process, we have never manufactured or marketed opioids and we have never distributed them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that have fueled this crisis,” added Engerman.

In a statement, Walmart criticized the lawsuit as “riddled with remarkable legal and factual errors.”

“Plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart for deep pockets while ignoring the real causes of the opioid crisis, such as pill mill doctors, illegal drugs and regulators sleeping on the switch and they wrongly claimed that pharmacists had to guess doctors in a way the law never intended. and many federal and state health regulators say it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, “the Walmart statement read in part.” As the pharmaceutical industry leader in combating the crisis opioids, Walmart is proud of its pharmacists, who are dedicated to helping patients face a tangle of conflicting federal and state guidelines on opioids. ”

CVS also defended its pharmacists in a press release.

“We strongly disagree with the decision,” CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis said. “Pharmacists fill legal prescriptions written by DEA licensed physicians who prescribe legal and FDA approved substances to treat real patients in need. ”

“We are proud of the substantial work we have done to help our pharmacists detect illegitimate prescriptions,” he continued. “But the facts are simple: Opioid prescriptions are written by doctors, not pharmacists; opioid drugs are made and marketed by manufacturers, not pharmacists; and our healthcare system depends on pharmacists to fill legitimate prescriptions that physicians deem necessary for their patients. “

Counties Respond

The verdict was good news for officials in Lake and Trumbull counties, where damages are expected to fund opioid reduction measures.

“Today’s verdict means a lot to Lake County as it is a step forward towards a real cure for this epidemic,” Lake County Commissioner John Plecnik told CNN. “On behalf of all families in Lake County, we thank the jury for sending a powerful message to berate those responsible for the opioid oversold.”

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“This verdict will also mean more resources to fight desperately needed opioid addiction,” Plecnik said. “I can’t say it loud enough, no one is immune from the impact of opioid addiction and abuse, and it’s not just a victory for Lake and Trumbull, it’s is a victory for all Americans. “

“Really in Lake County we haven’t had a corner of the county that hasn’t been affected by this epidemic,” said Kim Frasier, head of the Alcohol, Drug and Health Services Department. County Mental Health Center, in a Tuesday afternoon press release. conference. “This verdict gives voice to those individuals and families who have been so traumatized.”

April Caraway, chief of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, echoed the sentiment.

“We appreciate some justification,” she said. “It was difficult, but we wanted to do it for the people who have lost people.”

Next steps

Lanier told CNN that lawyers for both sides are still planning the damages phase, in which Judge Dan Polster would assess in dollars the damages suffered by Lake and Trumbull counties. In the meantime, an appeal is awaited before the Court of Appeal of the Sixth Circuit.

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