According to a verdict reached by a federal jury in Cleveland on Tuesday, three of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains — CVS Health, Walmart, and Walgreens — had made significant contributions to the crisis of opioid overdoses and deaths in two Ohio counties. The verdict marks the first time that a retail segment of the drug industry has been held accountable in connection with the decades-long opioid epidemic.
Following hearings in the spring, the trial judge will assess how much each corporation should be required to pay to the counties in the settlement.
Because they are all relying on the same legal strategy: that pharmaceutical companies contributed to a “public nuisance,” a claim that plaintiffs contend covers the public health crisis caused by opioids, the verdict was reassuring to plaintiffs in thousands of lawsuits filed across the country against pharmaceutical companies.
Earlier last month, courts in California and Oklahoma rejected the public nuisance claim in state court proceedings against opioid makers. Following the details of their respective states’ public nuisance statutes, the judges determined that the corporations’ operations were too far away from the overdoses and fatalities to be considered a public nuisance, and that the laws had been interpreted too broadly.
The deep-pocketed merchants were the final group of pharmaceutical businesses to be prosecuted in the courtroom, and they were the most successful. To far, they have been involved in fewer litigation than other pharmaceutical organisations.
Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, and Walmart reached a settlement with two New York counties, Nassau and Suffolk, in the summer of this year for a total of $26 million. In the Ohio lawsuit, Rite Aid and Giant Eagle, a regional supermarket operator, reached a confidential settlement earlier this year for unknown amounts.
Some opioid makers and distributors, on the other hand, have committed billions of dollars in settlement offers, some of which are available throughout the country.
Before anything else, the jury had to assess whether the excess of prescription medications and consequent illicit diversion had resulted in a public nuisance in each of the three counties in question.
A crisis must be ongoing in order to be considered a public nuisance under the law. While opioid prescriptions have decreased in recent years, this is mostly due to increased regulation from state and federal monitoring programmes, altered physician recommendations, and more company compliance.
Patients who had become addicted to the medications had moved to heroin and illicit fentanyl, according to the counties’ attorneys, who were successful in their argument when the supply of the drugs dried up. According to the attorneys, this was a foreseeably bad outcome that was a direct consequence of the influx of prescribed opioid medications.
When jurors reached the conclusion that there was a public nuisance associated with the opioid problem in the counties, they proceeded to consider a second issue. Were any of the drugstore chains involved in activity that was either “intentional” or “illegal,” therefore contributing significantly to the public nuisance that is the opioid crisis?
The drugstore attorneys replied with arguments that appellate courts may find compelling in the future. Despite the fact that their outlets represented a minuscule proportion of the total number of pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics that distribute opioids in the two counties, they claimed that the quantity of tablets they sold was commensurately small as well.
The attorneys for the accused repeatedly blamed the federal authorities for their clients’ plight. They said that not only were the medications authorised by the Food and Drug Administration, but the Department of Energy also put an annual limit on the amount of opioids that could be produced in the United States.
An argument for an appeal might include a disagreement about whether or not a mistrial should have been declared in the case. The trial proceeded when a juror demonstrated her outside study to the other jurors. And the drugstore merchants are sure to bring back their long-standing argument — that Judge Polster looked to be biassed in favour of the plaintiffs — to the fore. His pleas to all parties have been repeated since 2018, in order to avoid a prolonged legal battle and to allow badly needed aid to begin pouring into regions decimated by the opioid epidemic.