A big question in opiod litigation pertains to how far down the chain of distribution, from the drug manufacturer, the prescribing doctor, to the pharmacy that fills a prescription, can liability be established by plaintiffs seeking payment of the opiod litigation. A new jury verdict this week may help answer that question.
Bloomberglaw reports that a Cleveland jury concluded Walmart Inc., CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. helped create a public-health crisis by failing to properly monitor opioid prescriptions, the drug industry’s latest loss in the expanding litigation over the painkillers.
The federal-court panel backed claims by northeast Ohio’s Trumbull and Lake Counties that the pharmacy chains failed to create legally mandated monitoring systems to detect illegitimate opioid prescriptions. The counties are seeking reimbursement for the costs of dealing with addictions and fatal overdoses. Similar suits are pending against drugmakers and distributors. A judge will hear arguments in May about the counties’ compensation claims.
The two Ohio municipalities want the pharmacy owners to pay a combined $2.4 billion to replenish depleted budgets for drug treatment, social services and police, with $1.3 billion for Trumbull and $1.1 billion for Lake, according to people familiar with their demands.
Walmart and other pharmacy operators argued the municipalities couldn’t prove they created a so-called “public nuisance” through lax prescription oversight when the scripts were written by licensed doctors. They also touted their systems designed to help pharmacists track patients’ visits, making it easier to spot red flags among prescriptions.
It’s the first jury verdict in the sprawling, four-year opioid litigation. Municipalities across the nation have accused opioid makers, distributors and sellers of downplaying the painkillers’ addiction risks and sacrificing patient safety for billions in profits. The jurors in Cleveland deliberated for more than five days before returning the unanimous verdict on Tuesday.
“The jury’s decision sounds a bell that should be heard by pharmacy companies around the country,” Mark Lanier, the Ohio counties’ lead lawyer, said after the verdict was announced. “Laws regarding proper monitoring of prescription drugs are be taken seriously and not ignored or downplayed.”
The companies all said they would appeal the verdict. “We look forward to the appeals court review of this case, including the misapplication of public nuisance law,” Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “The facts and law do not support the verdict,” Walgreen’s Fraser Engelman added.
“We will appeal this flawed verdict, which is a reflection of a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes,” Randy Hargrove, a Walmart spokesman, said in an emailed statement.