The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled on Wednesday that three of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, must be held accountable for their role in contributing to the opioid epidemic by paying $650.5 million in restitution to two counties in the state of Ohio.
The judgement comes as a follow-up to a verdict that was handed down in November by a jury, which ruled that the corporations in question had continued to supply large amounts of prescription opioids over the course of several years, despite blatant evidence that the medicines were being misused.
It is the first time that a federal court has ever issued a judgement that attributes a specific monetary amount to the drugstore chains as a result of their actions in the opioid epidemic. In this instance, the judge, Dan A. Polster of the United States District Court in northern Ohio, who has presided over more than 3,000 cases in the opioid litigation, ruled that the pharmacies bore responsibility for one-third of the amount that Ohio’s hard-hit Lake and Trumbull counties require to address the ongoing damage wrought by the epidemic. This decision was made by the judge after he determined that the pharmacies bore responsibility for one-third of the amount.
According to him, there is also a duty on the part of drug distributors and drug makers, two more parties in the pharmaceutical supply chain that have been sued.
Mark Lanier, a lawyer from Texas who headed the trial team for the plaintiffs, stated the following about the drugstore chains: “These firms are tearing the very fabric of society apart.” Therefore, the judge is in charge of it.
Representatives from CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart all voiced their displeasure with the decision made by Judge Polster and said that their respective corporations will appeal the decision. Walgreens has said that they would be appealing the decision, according to a representative named Fraser Engerman. He stated that the judge’s analysis was faulty.
A representative for CVS named Michael DeAngelis said that the business will file an appeal and added the following: “Pharmacists fill lawful prescriptions issued by D.E.A.-licensed physicians who prescribe legal, F.D.A.-approved drugs to treat genuine individuals in need.”
During the course of the trial, Mr. Lanier’s experts testified that the counties would need more than $3 billion, a figure that he characterised as being akin to “the sun, the moon, and the stars.”
The court determined that the money must be paid in instalments over a period of fifteen years. In addition to this, he ordered the companies to comply with a stringent set of rules regarding monitoring and reporting within the next ninety days in order to guarantee that they will improve the manner in which they dispense opioids and identify potential issues.
In a settlement of opioid claims with the state of Florida that was finalised in May, Judge Polster pointed out that both CVS and Walgreens had previously agreed to similar limits.
For instance, earlier this month, the nation’s three largest distributors reached a settlement with more than one hundred counties and localities in West Virginia for a total of $400 million for the ways in which they conducted their business throughout the opioid crisis.
Judge Polster pointed out that the defendants “generally disregarded” his demands to submit remedial suggestions of their own even after the Cleveland jury decided against them. The court observed that in contrast to the extensive plans provided by the counties, the drugstore chains’ ideas for tackling the ongoing pandemic amounted to a short three-paragraph explanation of medication take-back programmes. This was in contrast to the extensive plans provided by the counties.
It’s possible that Walgreens may have to pay out yet another hefty fine because of the actions it took during the opioid crisis. A federal judge who had presided over a bench trial in a case brought by the city and county of San Francisco earlier this month issued a blunt ruling against the company, holding it responsible for looking the other way while the wreckage brought on by opioid abuse piled up. The case had been brought by the city and county of San Francisco. There has not yet been a decision made on the timing or location of the hearing that will decide how much Walgreens must pay to replenish budgets that were drained as a result of the pandemic.