CLEVELAND– A federal judge in Cleveland on Wednesday awarded $650 million in damages to two Ohio counties that sued CVS, Walgreens and Walmart over the way the national pharmacy chains distributed opioids to their communities.
US District Judge Dan Polster said in his ruling that the money will be used to help fight the opioid crisis in Lake and Trumbull counties outside of Cleveland. County attorneys put the total cost of the damage at $3.3 billion.
The judge admonished the three companies, saying they “missed an opportunity to present a meaningful plan to mitigate harassment” after a hearing to determine the counties’ debt last spring.
Lake County is set to receive $306 million over 15 years. Trumbull County is expected to receive $344 million over the same period. Polster ordered the companies to immediately pay nearly $87 million for the first two-year payments, but it was unclear if they had to pay that money during their appeals.
“Today marks the beginning of a new day in our fight to end the opioid epidemic,” Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck said in a statement.
A jury returned a verdict in favor of the counties in November after a six-week trial. It was then left to the judge to decide how much the districts should receive. He heard testimonies in May to assess damage.
The counties convinced the jury that the pharmacies played an outsized role in creating a public nuisance in the way they dispensed painkillers.
It was the first time pharmacy companies had completed a lawsuit to defend themselves in a drug crisis that has killed half a million Americans since 1999.
The damages decision came the same day that attorneys general from numerous states announced they had reached an agreement with opioid maker Endo International to pay up to $450 million over 10 years. The payments settle allegations that the company employed deceptive marketing practices “that downplayed the risk of addiction and overemphasized the benefits” of opioids.
Lawyers for the pharmacy chains insisted they had policies to stem the flow of pills if pharmacists raised concerns and would alert authorities to suspicious orders from doctors. They also said doctors controlled how many pills were prescribed for legitimate medical purposes, not pharmacies.
Walmart issued a statement Wednesday saying the counties have sued Walmart in search of deep pockets, and that ruling follows a trial constructed in favor of plaintiffs’ attorneys and riddled with notable legal and factual flaws.
Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said, “The facts and the law did not support the jury’s verdict last fall, and they do not now support the court’s decision.”
He said the court “made material errors of law in allowing the case to be brought before a jury on the basis of flawed legal theory inconsistent with Ohio law, and compounded those errors in deciding damages.”
CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said the company strongly disagreed with both the court’s damages ruling and the underlying judgment.
CVS is based in Rhode Island, Walgreens in Illinois and Walmart in Arkansas.
Two chains — Rite Aid and Giant Eagle — settled lawsuits with counties ahead of the trial. The amounts they paid were not publicly disclosed.
Mark Lanier, a counts attorney, said during the trial that the pharmacies were trying to blame everyone but themselves.
The opioid crisis has overwhelmed courts, social services and law enforcement in Ohio’s working-class corner east of Cleveland, leaving heartbroken families and babies of addicted mothers, Lanier told jurors.
In Trumbull County alone, around 80 million prescription pain medications were dispensed between 2012 and 2016—that’s 400 for every resident. About 61 million pills were distributed in Lake County during this period.
Prescriptions for pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone increased as medical groups began to recognize that patients have the right to treatment for pain, said Kaspar Stoffelmayr, an attorney for Walgreens, opening the trial.
The problem, he said, is that “drug manufacturers have fooled doctors into writing way too many pills.”
The counties said pharmacies should be the last line of defense to keep pills from falling into the wrong hands.
The lawsuit was part of a broader constellation of approximately 3,000 state opioid lawsuits consolidated under Polster’s oversight. Other cases are tried in state courts.
Kevin Roy, chief public policy officer at Shatterproof, an organization that campaigns for addiction solutions, said in November the ruling could prompt pharmacies to follow the path of large distributors and some drugmakers, which have nationwide settlements of billions worth of opioid cases have reached dollars. So far, no pharmacy has reached a nationwide agreement.
The agreement with Ireland-based Endo provides for the US$450 million to be split between participating states and municipalities. It is also asking Endo to put opioid-related documents online for public inspection and to pay $2.75 million in expenses for the public archiving of those documents.
Under the terms of the agreement, Endo will never again be allowed to market opioids. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.
The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania, did not respond to phone and email requests Wednesday for comment on the agreement.
Endo produces generic opioids and brand names such as Percocet and Endocet. The company’s opioid Opana ER was withdrawn from the market in 2017.
Attorneys general say Endo “falsely advertised the benefits” of Opana ER’s “so-called abuse deterrent formulation.” The attorney general said the wording does not deter abuse of the drug, leading to deadly outbreaks of hepatitis and HIV caused by people who injected it.
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https://6abc.com/opioids-pharmacies-sued-cvs-walmart/12138488/ A federal judge in Cleveland has awarded $650 million in damages to two Ohio counties that sued CVS, Walgreens and Walmart