(Reuters) A federal jury on Tuesday determined that pharmacy chain operators CVS Health Corp, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Walmart Inc helped fuel an opioid epidemic in two Ohio counties, in the first trial that the companies are facing over the U.S. drug crisis.
Jurors in Cleveland federal court after six days of deliberations determined that actions by pharmacy chains contributed to an unwelcome public nuisance that led to an oversupply of addictive pain pills and the diversion of those opioids to the black market.
The verdict could give state and local governments new leverage in negotiations to reach settlements that will settle thousands of other lawsuits against the pharmacy operators.
“The judgment today against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS is a long-overdue redressing of their complicity in creating an unwelcome public nuisance,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers stated in the joint statement.
Jurors only assessed the liability. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster will decide on the amount the companies owe in order to resolve the public nuisance in Ohio’s Lake or Trumbull counties.
The lawyers for the counties have claimed that the cost is possibly $1 billion per county. A trial on the issue is anticipated next year.
The prices of the companies’ stocks briefly fell after the verdict but quickly rebounded and were all up less than 1 percent.
Walgreens, CVS and Walmart have indicated that they intend to appeal the verdict. They argued that the verdict was in contradiction to the facts and that the jury erred in applying public nuisance laws to make them accountable. This argument is similar to the one that judges in Oklahoma and California rejected in similar cases against drug companies.
Walmart has stated that they will appeal the flawed verdict. It was an example of a trial that was designed to favor plaintiffs’ lawyers and was filled with remarkable errors in fact and law.
U.S. officials have said that by 2019 the health crisis was responsible for around 500,000 deaths due to opioid overdoses within the last two decades.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week that more than 100,000 people died from overdoses of drugs during the 12-month period that ended in April 2021. This figure was largely due to opioids, such as fentanyl.
LAWSUITS – TENS OF THOUSANDS
Nationally there were more than 3300 opioid lawsuits were filed against drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies. Many of these companies, even though not pharmacies, signed global settlements.
The three largest U.S. distributors of pharmacies and hospitals – McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp – and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson proposed in July that they would pay up to $26 billion in settlements the majority of lawsuits against them.
In September, a bankruptcy judge approved a settlement between OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP (and its wealthy Sackler family members) which the company estimates at more than $10 billion.
Despite being urged by the judge to agree, the pharmacies went to trial.
In court, attorneys representing Lake and Trumbull counties argued that the pharmacies failed to verify that opioid prescriptions were valid and allowed excessive quantities of addictive pain pills to flood their communities.
The pharmacy owners denied the allegations. They claimed that they had taken steps to prevent the drug-related diversion and blamed others, including regulators, doctors and drug traffickers for the scourge.
This verdict came in the wake of recent setbacks for plaintiffs in other cases involving opioids.
The highest court in Oklahoma affirmed the $465 million judgment against J&J on Nov. 9. A California judge ruled in favor of four drugmakers this month in a case brought before them by several large counties.
Other trials are ongoing in New York with drugmakers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and AbbVie Inc. In Washington the three distributors are also involved.
Content Source: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/963572?src=rss