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A federal jury on Tuesday held three of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, liable for helping fuel the U.S. opioid crisis — a decision expected to have legal ramifications as thousands of similar lawsuits appear in courts across the country. be continued .
Jurors concluded that the pharmacies contributed to the so-called public nuisance in Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull counties by selling and dispensing massive amounts of prescription painkillers.
Some of those drugs that were initially bought legally were eventually sold on the black market.
Tuesday’s verdict is expected to resonate nationally as the three chains face thousands of similar lawsuits filed by American communities grappling with the opioid crisis.
Separate legal proceedings will now take place to determine how much the companies will have to pay to help resolve the crisis, with damages likely in the billions of dollars.
In a statement, attorneys for the Ohio counties who filed the federal lawsuit described the jury’s decision as a “milestone victory” in its effort to hold companies accountable for an addiction crisis that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
“For decades, pharmacy chains have watched as the pills pouring out of their doors wreak havoc and failed to take action as required by federal law,” the attorneys said.
Pharmacy chain executives have long maintained that they did nothing wrong, dispensing pills only after prescriptions were written by licensed health care providers.
In a statement sent to NPR, a Walmart spokesperson dismissed the verdict and criticized the way the trial was handled by Judge Dan Polster, who has overseen much of the federal opioid litigation now pending in the U.S. .
“We will appeal this flawed verdict, which reflects a process designed to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was fraught with notable legal and factual errors,” Walmart’s statement said.
A CVS spokesperson also promised to appeal in a statement to NPR.
“We strongly disagree with the decision,” the statement said. “Pharmacists are filling regulatory prescriptions written by DEA-approved physicians prescribing legal, FDA-approved substances to treat real patients in need.”
In a separate statement to Walgreens’ NPR, a spokesperson described the verdict as disappointing. “The facts and the law do not support the verdict. We believe that the court made significant legal errors in bringing the case before a jury,” it said.
This federal verdict comes at a time when efforts in state courts to hold companies accountable for the opioid crisis have reached major legal roadblocks.
This month, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a judgment against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson worth about $460 million, which was based on the same “public nuisance” legal argument.
A California state judge also declined to hold drug companies accountable for any role in fueling the opioid crisis in communities in that state.
Opioid lawsuits continue in other US locations, including upstate New York and Washington.