CVS, Walmart and Walgreens to pay $650M in Ohio opioid case

Health

(NewsNation) — CVS, Walgreens and Walmart are to pay $650.5 million to two Ohio counties a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

“These companies are rending the fabric of society apart. They should not only show remorse, they should show they need to rectify what they’ve done. And they won’t do it. So the judge is doing it,” Mark Lanier, the Texas lawyer who led the plaintiffs’ trial team, said to the New York Times Wednesday.

The order by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland is significant as it the first time pharmacy chains have been ordered to pay money in an opioid lawsuit.

The ruling follows a jury’s guilty decision in November of last year that concluded that the companies helped create a public nuisance by oversupplying addictive pain pills to Lake and Trumbull counties, many of which found their way onto the black market.

“The news today means that we will soon have the long-awaited resources necessary to extend aid to properly address the harms caused by this devastating epidemic,” Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda said in a statement.

The pharmacies, which have argued they cannot be liable for filling legal prescriptions from doctors, have said they would appeal that verdict.

“Plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart in search of deep pockets, and this judgment follows a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes. We will appeal,” Walmart said in a press release

Additionally, representatives of Walgreens and CVS both said Wednesday’s decision was not supported by the law and that they planned to appeal it. 

“The facts and the law did not support the jury verdict last fall, and they do not support the court’s decision now,” Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman said in a statement.

Continuing, he added that the court “committed significant legal errors in allowing the case to go before a jury on a flawed legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law and compounded those errors in reaching its ruling regarding damages.”

CVS spokesperson Michael DeAngelis also said, according to ABC 7, that they strongly disagreed with the court’s decision on damages as well as the underlying verdict.

Polster said the sum must be paid over 15 years, with the amount for the first two years, or $86.7 million, to be paid immediately. He also ordered the companies to implement new procedures to combat illegal diversion of opioids.

The U.S. opioid epidemic has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths over two decades, according to government data. More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed, mostly by local governments, accusing drugmakers, distributors and pharmacy chains of fueling the crisis.

The litigation has resulted in several nationwide settlements, including a $26 billion deal with Johnson & Johnson and the three leading distributors, a $2.37 billion settlement with AbbVie Inc and a $4.25 billion settlement with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Pharmacies have yet to reach any nationwide settlement, but Walgreens and CVS settled with Florida for $683 million and $484 million, respectively.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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