Nov 23, 2021 - Economy

Jury holds pharmacies responsible in groundbreaking opioids case

Photo of a CVS/pharmacy storefront

Photo: Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A federal jury said Tuesday that Walgreens, CVS and Walmart recklessly distributed pain pills in two Ohio counties and played a hand in the hundreds of overdose deaths that plagued the communities, AP reports.

Why it matters: It's the first verdict for pharmacy companies in a case involving the opioid crisis, per AP. The verdict — with a judge set to rule on damages this spring — could set a precedent for other local governments that seek to hold pharmacies accountable.

Details: Pharmacies distributed around 80 million prescription painkillers in Trumbull County between 2012 and 2016, or 400 for every resident, according to AP.

  • Around 61 million pills circulated in Lake County in the same time frame.
  • Attorneys for the three pharmacy giants argued they had policies in place to minimize the dispensing of pills and that doctors had ultimate authority over prescriptions.
  • The counties countered that pharmacies were blaming everyone but themselves and that they contributed to a public health crisis that taxed the region’s courts, social services and law enforcement.
  • Their attorney said the flood of pills cost the counties about $1 billion each, per AP.

What they're saying: CVS Health spokesperson Michael DeAngelis said in a statement that they "strongly disagree" with the decision and will seek to appeal the ruling.

  • "[T]the simple facts are that opioid prescriptions are written by doctors, not pharmacists; opioid medications are made and marketed by manufacturers, not pharmacists; and our health care system depends on pharmacists to fill legitimate prescriptions that doctors deem necessary for their patients."

Worth noting: Several opioid manufacturers and drug distributors are facing criminal investigations from the Department of Justice for similar concerns about the flow of prescription painkillers.

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