CLEVELAND (AP) — 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 the money will be used to fight the opioid crisis in Lake and Trumbull counties outside Cleveland. County attorneys estimate the total price tag at $3.3 billion for the damage done.
The judge admonished the three companies, saying they “wasted the opportunity to present a meaningful plan to reduce the nuisance” after last spring’s proceedings to determine what counts owed.
Lake County will receive $306 million in 15 years. Trumbull County will receive $344 million over the same period. Polster ordered the companies to immediately pay nearly $87 million to cover the first two years of payments, but it was unclear whether they would have to pay that money during their appeal.
“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.
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A jury ruled in favor of the provinces in November after a six-week trial. It was then left to the judge to decide how much the provinces should receive. He heard testimonies in May to determine the damage.
The counties convinced the jury that the pharmacies played an excessive role in causing public nuisance in the way they dispensed painkillers.
It was the first time pharmacy companies completed a trial to defend themselves in a drug crisis that has killed half a million Americans since 1999.
The decision on damages came on the same day that attorneys general of several states announced they had reached an agreement with opioid maker Endo International to pay a whopping $450 million over 10 years. The payments settle allegations that the company used deceptive marketing practices “that downplayed the risk of addiction and overestimated the benefits” of opioids.
Lawyers for the pharmacy chains insisted they had policies in place to stop the flow of pills when pharmacists raised concerns and notify authorities of suspicious orders from doctors. They also said it was doctors who monitored how many pills were prescribed for legitimate medical needs, not pharmacies.
Walmart released a statement Wednesday saying that the counties have “sued Walmart in search of deep pockets, and this verdict follows a lawsuit designed to favor the plaintiffs’ lawyers and was fraught with notable legal and factual errors. “
Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said: “The facts and the law did not support the jury’s verdict last fall, and they do not support the court’s decision now.”
He said the court committed “significant legal error in bringing the case to a jury based on flawed legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law and exacerbated errors in reaching a verdict on damages.” .”
CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said the company strongly disagreed with the court’s decision on damages and the underlying judgment.
CVS is located in Rhode Island, Walgreens in Illinois and Walmart in Arkansas.
Two chains – Rite Aid and Giant Eagle – settled lawsuits with the counties before the trial. The amounts they paid have not been made public.
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Mark Lanier, a lawyer for the counties, said at 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 bereaved families and babies of addicted mothers, Lanier told the jurors.
In Trumbull County alone, about 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed between 2012 and 2016 — equivalent to 400 for each resident. In Lake County, some 61 million pills were distributed during that time.
Prescriptions for pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone rose as medical groups began to recognize that patients have the right to be treated for pain, said Kaspar Stoffelmayr, a Walgreens attorney, opening the trial.
The problem, he said, was that “pharmaceutical manufacturers misled doctors into writing far too many pills.”
The provinces said pharmacies should be the last line of defense to prevent pills from falling into the wrong hands.
The lawsuit was part of a broader constellation of about 3,000 federal opioid lawsuits that were consolidated under Polster’s oversight. Other cases continue in state courts.
Kevin Roy, chief public policy officer at Shatterproof, an organization that advocates for addiction solutions, said in November the verdict could lead pharmacies to follow the path of major distribution companies and some drug makers who have settled nationwide settlements for opioid cases worth $300,000. billions of dollars. dollars. So far, no pharmacy has reached a national settlement.
The agreement with Ireland-based Endo calls for the $450 million to be split between the participating states and communities. It also calls on Endo to post opioid-related documents online for public viewing and pay $2.75 million in expenses to file those documents publicly.
Endo has agreed to never again put opioids on the market. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday.
The company, which is headquartered in Malvern, Pennsylvania, did not respond to phone and email requests on Wednesday for comment on the agreement.
Endo produces generic opioids and name brands such as Percocet and Endocet. The company’s Opana ER opioid was withdrawn from the market in 2017.
The attorneys general say Endo “falsely promoted the benefits” of Opana ER’s “so-called abuse deterrent formulation.” The attorneys general said the formulation did not deter misuse of the drug and led to deadly outbreaks of hepatitis and HIV from people injecting it.