CVS, other pharmacy chains found liable in their first trial over U.S. opioid epidemic
By Nate Raymond
Nov 23 (Reuters) – A federal jury on Tuesday found 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 the companies have faced over the U.S. drug crisis.
Jurors in Cleveland federal court concluded that actions by the pharmacy chains helped create a public nuisance that resulted in an oversupply of addictive pain pills and the diversion of those opioids to the black market.
The verdict was confirmed by lawyers for the plaintiffs. The jury only assessed liability. It is up to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster to decide how much the companies should owe to abate, or address, the public nuisance in Ohio's Lake and Trumbull counties.
He has tentatively scheduled a trial on that question for May 9. The counties' lawyers have said the costs are potentially $1 billion for each county.
The trial was the first that any pharmacies had faced over an epidemic that U.S. health officials say had by 2019 resulted in nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths over the course of two decades.
Over 100,000 people died from drug overdoses during the 12-month period ending April 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said, a record high driven in large part by deaths from opioids like fentanyl.
At trial, lawyers for Lake and Trumbull counties argued that the pharmacies failed to ensure opioid prescriptions were valid and allowed excessive quantities of addictive pain pills to flood their communities.
The pharmacy operators, among the largest in the United States, denied the allegations. They said they took steps to guard against the diversion of pills and blamed others, including doctors, regulators and drug traffickers, for the epidemic.
The verdict in the Ohio trial followed recent setbacks for plaintiffs pursuing some of the other 3,300 opioid cases filed against drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies nationally.
Oklahoma's top court on Nov. 9 overturned a $465 million judgment https://www.reuters.com/business/oklahoma-court-overturns-465-million-opioid-award-against-johnson-johnson-2021-11-09 against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, and a California judge this month ruled in favor of four drugmakers in a case brought by several large counties.
Other trials are underway in New York involving drugmakers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and AbbVie Inc , and in Washington state with the three largest U.S. drug distributors.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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