Judge says pharmacies owe $650 million to 2 Ohio counties in opioid lawsuit

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 how national drugstore chains dispensed opioids to their communities.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said in his ruling the money will be used to address the opioid crisis in Lake and Trumbull counties outside of Cleveland. County attorneys put the total price tag at $3.3 billion for damages.

The judge reprimanded the three companies, saying they “wasted the opportunity to present a meaningful plan to reduce nuisance” after a proceeding last spring to determine what was owed to the counties.

Lake County will receive $306 million over 15 years. Trumbull County will receive $344 million over the same period. Polster ordered the companies to immediately shell out nearly $87 million to cover the first two years of payments, but it was unclear whether they had to pay that money when they appealed.

“Today marks the start of a new day in our fight to end the opioid epidemic,” Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck said in a statement.

LOOK: St. Louis battles opioid crisis as overdose deaths soar among black Americans

A jury in November returned a verdict in favor of the counties after a six-week trial. It was then up to the judge to decide how much the counties should receive. He heard evidence in May to determine the damage.

The counties convinced the jury that pharmacies played an outsized role in creating a public nuisance in the way they dispensed painkillers.

It was the first time drug companies have completed a lawsuit to defend themselves in a drug crisis that has killed half a million Americans since 1999.

The damages ruling came the same day that multiple state attorneys general announced they had reached an agreement with opioid maker Endo International to pay up to $450 million over 10 years. The payments settle allegations that the company used deceptive marketing practices “that minimized the risk of addiction and exaggerated the benefits” of opioids.

Lawyers for the drugstore chains insisted they had policies to stem the flow of pills when pharmacists raised concerns and would notify authorities of suspicious orders from doctors. They also said doctors control the number of pills prescribed for legitimate medical needs, not pharmacies.

Walmart released a statement on Wednesday saying the counties “sued Walmart for deep pockets, and this judgment follows a lawsuit that was designed to favor plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable 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 “made significant legal errors in allowing the case to go to a jury on an erroneous legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law and compounded those errors in reaching its decision on damages”.

CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said the company strongly disagrees with the court’s damages award as well as the underlying verdict.

CVS is based 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 publicly disclosed.

READ MORE: How the Opioid Crisis is Driving Deaths and Abuse in Prisons

Mark Lanier, a counties attorney, said during the trial that the pharmacies were trying to blame everyone but themselves.

The opioid crisis has overwhelmed courts, social service agencies and law enforcement in Ohio’s blue-collar corner east of Cleveland, leaving heartbroken families and babies behind. born to drug-addicted mothers, Lanier told jurors.

About 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016, which equates to 400 for every resident. In Lake County, some 61 million pills were dispensed during that time.

Prescriptions for painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone have increased as medical groups have begun to recognize that patients have a right to be treated for pain, Walgreens attorney Kaspar Stoffelmayr told the opening of the trial.

The problem, he said, was that “pharmaceutical companies got doctors to write way too many pills.”

The counties said pharmacies should be the last line of defense to prevent pills from falling into the wrong hands.

The lawsuit was part of a larger constellation of about 3,000 federal opioid lawsuits grouped together under Polster’s oversight. Other cases are progressing in state courts.

Kevin Roy, director of public policy at Shatterproof, an organization that advocates for addiction solutions, said in November that the verdict could lead pharmacies to follow the path of large distribution companies and some drugmakers who have concluded national opioid case settlements worth billions of dollars. dollars. So far, no pharmacy has reached a nationwide settlement.

The agreement with Ireland-based Endo provides that the $450 million will be split between participating states and communities. It is also asking Endo to post opioid-related documents online for public viewing and pay $2.75 million in expenses to publicly archive those documents.

Endo will never be able to market opioids again, according to the agreement. He filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.

The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania, did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on the deal on Wednesday.

Endo produces generic opioids and name brands such as Percocet and Endocet. The company’s Opana ER opioid was taken off the market in 2017.

Attorneys general say Endo “falsely promoted the benefits” of Opana ER’s “alleged abuse deterrent wording.” Attorneys general have said the formulation has failed to deter abuse of the drug and has led to deadly outbreaks of hepatitis and HIV resulting from people who inject it.


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