A Cleveland federal judge has begun hearing demands that three of the largest pharmacy chains in the US pay billions of dollars in refunds after a jury found they helped spark America’s opioid epidemic.
The price level against CVS, Walgreens and Walmart for the reckless delivery of narcotic pain medication in two Ohio counties will help determine the total payout in thousands of federal cases across the country involving drug makers, distributors and pharmacies. are accused of enabling a drug epidemic that has claimed more than a million lives in two decades.
The hearing began after the criminal convictions of dozens of doctors who were the main prescribers of the largest opioid manufacturer in the US, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. The Washington Post reported that in 2013, at the height of the prescription opioid epidemic, 65 of the 239 top prescribers of painkillers were imprisoned, fined or lost their medical license.
Mallinckrodt at one point accounted for the largest share of the market for potent opioid pills, taking over from Purdue Pharma, which produced OxyContin, the drug that started the epidemic after its release in 1997.
According to documents and statements made public as part of a legal settlement, Mallinckrodt has joined other opioid makers at the urging of doctors already prescribing large amounts of narcotics to give patients even more drugs and in higher doses, while reducing the risks. of addiction is seriously underestimated.
Several of those doctors were arrested for running “pill mill” pain clinics that dispensed opioids without following proper medical procedure, fraud and other crimes. Among them was Fathalla Mashali, who ran four clinics in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where his employees had already complained to authorities about his “unprofessional, unethical and illegal behavior”. Mashali was arrested while trying to leave the country and was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2018.
Another was George Griffin, a doctor prized by Mallinckrodt’s sales force for his frequent prescribing of opioids and who was sent to prison last year for illegally distributing narcotics.
The Cleveland court’s decision focuses on two Ohio counties, Lake and Trumbull, which are part of a federal case that will determine the debt level and amount of payouts for thousands of opioid lawsuits filed by municipalities, counties and native tribes across the country.
Ohio counties lawyers have said they need at least $1 billion each to address the effects of opioid addiction and deaths. Those lawyers claim that about 400 painkillers were distributed to every resident of Trumbull County when the mass prescribing of opioids was at its worst.
The parties in another lawsuit involving distributors accused of illegally flooding West Virginia with opioids — reaching the highest overdose rate in the country — are awaiting a ruling. According to evidence presented during the trial, pharmaceutical executives distributed emails mocking “pills” that became addicted to painkillers.
Another prominent case to be heard stems from a Cherokee Nation lawsuit against drug distributor McKesson.
But shocking revelations about the greed and cynicism of opioid makers like Mallinckrodt, Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson during the discovery phases of the lawsuits have increasingly led drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains to settle without trial.
Collectively, they have agreed to more than $40 billion in payments to date, albeit without admitting wrongdoing.
Earlier this month, CVS and Walgreens agreed to pay Florida hundreds of millions to settle opioid supply claims. Last year, Johnson & Johnson announced it would stop manufacturing opioid painkillers after a lawsuit led to patient disdain from its sales force.
In a company memo, a sales representative said she dismissed a doctor’s fear that patients could become addicted to opioids by telling him that those who didn’t die probably wouldn’t become addicted.