A federal jury in Ohio today "found that three of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains, CVS Health, Walmart and Walgreens, substantially contributed to the crisis of opioid overdoses and deaths in two Ohio counties, the first time the retail segment of the drug industry has been held accountable in the decades-long epidemic."
As plaintiffs' lawyers stated after the verdict, “[f]or decades, pharmacy chains have watched as the pills flowing out of their doors cause harm and failed to take action as required by law...The judgment today against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance,” the statement continued.
In support of their position that the pharmacy chains were accountable for a continuing public nuisance, the plaintiffs argued that while prescriptions for opioids have dropped in recent years due to increased oversight, those patients already addicted to opioids turned to illegal heroin and fentanyl use. The jury agreed, and found that the pharmacy chains engaged in conduct that was intentional or illegal that substantially contributed to the opioid crisis.
It is expected that the pharmacy chains will appeal, particularly since recovery on a similar theory had recently been denied by judges in California and Oklahoma. For now, however, this jury verdict puts corporate actors on notice that participating in activity that harms the public can have direct legal consequences.
But in this case, brought by Lake and Trumbull counties in northeastern Ohio, lawyers for the plaintiffs used the legal theory successfully. They argued that for years, the pharmacies turned a blind eye to countless red flags about suspicious opioid orders, both at the local counter with patients and at corporate headquarters, whose oversight requirements were, according to Mark Lanier, the counties’ lead trial lawyer, “Too little, too late.”