A federal jury ruled against CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, finding that the pharmacy chains helped fuel the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties. The three pharmacy chains are currently facing thousands of lawsuits, but this was the first to be tried.
The case, which was part of a broader cross-district litigation involving multiple cases related to the opioid crisis, could serve as an indicator of how juries may decide in future trials. It was chosen as the lead process to give everyone involved an idea of how to proceed in future cases.
The lawsuits were filed by Lake and Trumbull Counties, both of which are in northeast Ohio. Lawyers from both districts argued that the pharmacy chains, which were focused on speed and customer loyalty, missed red flags on their filled prescriptions, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Pharmacy chains, on the other hand, argued that this was the responsibility of the doctors who wrote the prescriptions.
A 12-person jury decided in favor of the two districts, although the amount of the compensation for the three defendants has yet to be determined in future proceedings.
Two pharmacy chains, Giant Eagle and Rite Aid, have reached an earlier settlement with the counties. Prior to the verdict, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart tried to clarify a malpractice, but that motion was denied by District Judge Dan Aaron Polster.
The three pharmacy chains said in email statements that they plan to appeal the ruling.
Walgreens and Walmart argued that the case was based on “flawed legal theory” and pointed to cases in other states where arguments of “public harassment” against the role of companies in the opioid epidemic had stalled. For its part, CVS pointed at manufacturers marketing opioid drugs, emphasizing that it was the doctors who wrote the prescriptions, not the pharmacists. But the jury’s decision could have further implications for these companies in the future.
In the meantime, communities continue to grapple with the ongoing effects of the opioid epidemic. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the past year.
The In re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation case has been filed in the US District Court Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division.
Photo: Mykola Velychko, Getty Images