A federal jury concluded on Tuesday that pharmacies operated by Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens recklessly distributed opioids in two Ohio counties, marking the first time pharmacy companies finished a trial pertaining to the opioid crisis.
Attorneys for Lake and Trumbull counties in northeast Ohio blamed pharmacies operated by those companies for failing to prevent distribution of opioid painkillers. The failure resulted in hundreds of overdose deaths, attorneys said.
Around 80 million opioid painkillers were distributed in Trumbull County between 2012 and 2016, enough for 400 pills per resident, while 61 million pills were distributed over the same period in Lake County, according to the Associated Press.
The companies argued that doctors were responsible for prescriptions, and that their pharmacies had protocols to prevent the reckless distribution of opioids.
“As plaintiffs’ own experts testified, many factors have contributed to the opioid abuse issue, and solving this problem will require involvement from all stakeholders in our health care system and all members of our community,” CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis said in a statement.
Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., spokesman Fraser Engerman said his company would appeal the verdict.
The lawsuit was one of about 3,000 opioid-related cases that were consolidated under U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who oversaw the Lake and Trumbull counties case.
Polster scheduled a tentative trial date to determine damages for the suit on May 9. The counties are seeking up to $1 billion in damages from the three companies.
Pharmacy companies called for a mistrial last month after one of the jurors brought in outside evidence and distributed it to fellow jurors. Mark Lanier, a lead attorney for the counties, initially said it could be “appropriate” to declare a mistrial because of the juror’s decision.
However, Lanier subsequently filed against a mistrial motion brought by the companies, and Polster determined that the trial could continue.
Close to 500,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses by 2019, according to U.S. health officials.
Overall drug overdose deaths have climbed during the coronavirus pandemic, with an estimated 100,306 deaths between April 2020 and 2021, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. About three quarters of those deaths were attributable to opioids including fentanyl.