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Counties Win 'Landmark Victory' Against Pharmacy Chains

Federal jury found chains responsible for role in opioid crisis
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 23, 2021 6:45 PM CST
Jury Holds Pharmacies Responsible in Opioid Crisis
A man walks through downtown Painesville, Ohio, in Lake County, on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021.   (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

(Newser) – CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart pharmacies recklessly distributed massive amounts of pain pills in two Ohio counties, a federal jury said Tuesday in a verdict that could set the tone for US city and county governments that want to hold pharmacies accountable for their roles in the opioid crisis. Lake and Trumbull counties blamed the three chain pharmacies for not stopping the flood of pills that caused hundreds of overdose deaths and cost each county about $1 billion, said their attorney, who in court compared the pharmacies' dispensing to a gumball machine. How much the pharmacies must pay in damages will be decided in the spring by a federal judge, the AP reports.

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It's the first time pharmacy companies completed a trial to defend themselves in a drug crisis that killed a half-million Americans over the past two decades. The counties convinced the jury that the pharmacies played an outsized role in creating a public nuisance in the way they dispensed pain medication into their communities. "The law requires pharmacies to be diligent in dealing drugs. This case should be a wake-up call that failure will not be accepted," said Mark Lanier, an attorney for the counties. "The jury sounded a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America," Lanier said. The committee of lawyers for the local governments suing the drug industry in federal courts called Tuesday’s verdict "a milestone victory" and an "overdue reckoning."

Roughly 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016—equivalent to 400 for every resident. In Lake County, some 61 million pills were distributed during that period. Attorneys for the pharmacy chains maintained they had policies to stem the flow of pills when their pharmacists had concerns and would notify authorities about suspicious orders from doctors. They also said it was doctors who controlled how many pills were prescribed for legitimate medical needs. CVSHealth, Walgreen Co., and Walmart Inc. said they will appeal. Two chains—Rite Aid and Giant Eagle—have already settled lawsuits with the two Ohio counties.

(Read more opioids stories.)

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