CVS, Walgreens, Walmart Must Pay $650 Million In Damages To 2 Ohio Counties For Opioid Distribution

The US has been facing a deadly opioid crisis that has resulted in half a million deaths since 1999. Pharmaceutical giants CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart have been ordered by a judge to pay $650 million in damages in an opioid lawsuit.

By Gina Florio2 min read

Lake County and Trumbull County, both located just outside Cleveland, Ohio, have been hit with the opioid epidemic particularly hard. Between 2012 and 2016, pharmacies distributed more than 61 million pills in Lake County alone; it's roughly estimated that this was enough to give every single man, woman, and child 265 pills each. Approximately 80 million pills were dispensed in Trumbull County during the same time period, which comes out to 400 painkillers for each resident.

According to federal law, pharmacies are required to determine that prescriptions have been issued for legitimate medial purposes before filing them. Attorneys argued that these major pharmacies failed to fulfill this duty and thus oversupplied blue-collar counties in Ohio with more opioid pills than were medically necessary.

CVS, Walgreens, Walmart Must Pay $650 Million in Damages to 2 Ohio Counties for Opioid Distribution

Last year, after a six-week trial, the jury ruled in favor of the Ohio counties, and it was left to U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster in Cleveland to decide what the damages were. He heard testimony in May before he came to the decision that CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart are ordered to pay $650 million in damages to the two Ohio counties. Lake County will receive $306 million and Trumbull County will receive $444 million, both over the course of 15 years.

Polster claimed that these national pharmacies distributed opioids to customers in ways that caused severe harm to the communities, saying they handed out the pills "without effective controls and procedures" and "squandered the opportunity to present a meaningful plan to abate the nuisance." This federal trial is the first of its kind; other similar drug distributors have either settled or filed for bankruptcy in the past.

CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart will also be required to train personnel on how to properly dispense controlled substances such as opioids, create a hotline where people can report inappropriate sales of painkillers, and appoint a controlled-substance compliance officer to review prescription processes.

Walmart insisted that the two Ohio counties were merely "in search of deep pockets" and they plan to appeal the decision. “Instead of addressing the real causes of the opioid crisis, like pill mill doctors, illegal drugs and regulators asleep at the switch, plaintiffs’ lawyers wrongly claimed that pharmacists must second-guess doctors in a way the law never intended and many federal and state health regulators say interferes with the doctor-patient relationship,” Walmart said.

CVS also announced that it would appeal the decision, insisting the whole lawsuit was a "misapplication of public nuisance law."

“We strongly disagree with the Court’s decision regarding the counties’ abatement plan, as well as last fall’s underlying verdict,” CVS' statement said. “Pharmacists fill legal prescriptions written by DEA-licensed doctors who prescribe legal, FDA-approved substances to treat actual patients in need.”

“The court committed significant legal errors in allowing the case to go before a jury on a flawed legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law and compounded those errors in reaching its ruling regarding damages,” Walgreens said in their own statement. “As we have said throughout this process, we never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis.”