(Reuters) – A federal jury found on Tuesday that drugstore chain operators CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Walmart Inc. had helped fuel an opioid epidemic in two Ohio counties during the first test that companies faced during the pharmaceutical crisis in the United States. .
After six days of deliberation, jurors in Cleveland federal court concluded that the actions of drugstore chains had helped create a public nuisance that resulted in an oversupply of addictive pain relievers and those opioids being diverted to the black market.
The verdict, which county attorneys confirmed, has the potential to give state and local governments further leverage in their efforts to negotiate settlements that would resolve the thousands of other cases against drugstore operators.
“Today’s judgment against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the delay in calculating their complicity in creating a public nuisance,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in a joint statement.
The jurors only assessed liability. It’s up to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster to decide how much businesses owe to reduce or tackle public nuisance in Ohio and Trumbull counties.
He tentatively scheduled a trial on this issue for May 9. County attorneys said the costs were potentially $ 1 billion for each county.
CVS said in a statement it strongly disagrees with the verdict and plans to appeal, arguing that the court misapplied the public nuisance law, which other courts in similar opioid cases recently have. refused to apply to drug manufacturers.
“As the complainants’ own experts have testified, there are many factors that have contributed to the problem of opioid abuse, and resolving this problem will require the participation of all stakeholders in our health care system and all stakeholders. members of our community, ”CVS said.
Representatives for Walgreens and Walmart did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The trial was the first that pharmacies had faced in an outbreak that U.S. health officials said in 2019 resulted in nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths over two decades.
At trial, lawyers for Lake and Trumbull counties argued that pharmacies failed to ensure the validity of opioid prescriptions and allowed excessive amounts of addictive pain relievers to flood their communities.
Drugstore operators, among the largest in the United States, have denied the claims. They said they took steps to guard against pill diversion and blamed others, including doctors, regulators and drug traffickers, for the outbreak.
The Ohio lawsuit verdict follows recent setbacks by plaintiffs pursuing some of the other 3,300 opioid cases filed against drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies nationwide.
On November 9, Oklahoma’s highest court overturned a $ 465 million judgment against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, and a California judge this month ruled in favor of four drugmakers in a case brought by several large counties.
Further trials are underway in New York with drug makers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and AbbVie Inc., and in Washington State with the three largest US drug distributors.