CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart to Pay $650.5M in Ohio Opioid Case
Ohio counties won a historic lawsuit against CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart on Wednesday, receiving $650 million in damages for their communities' devastation from the companies' distribution practices regarding opioids to customers.
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled on Wednesday that three of the nation's largest pharmacy chains, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, must be held accountable for their role in contributing to the opioid epidemic by paying $650.5 million in restitution to two counties in the state of Ohio.
The judgment comes as a follow-up to a verdict handed down in November by a jury, which ruled that the corporations in question had continued to supply large quantities of prescription opioids over the course of several years, despite blatant evidence that the medicines were being abused.
It is the first time a federal judge has ever issued a judgement that attributes a specific monetary amount to the pharmacy chains due to their actions in the opioid crisis. In this instance, the judge, Dan A. Polster of the United States District Court in northern Ohio, who has presided over more than 3,000 cases in the opioid litigation, ruled that the pharmacies bore responsibility for one-third of the amount that Ohio's hard-hit Lake and Trumbull counties require to address the ongoing damage wrought by the epidemic. The judge made this decision after he determined that the pharmacies bore responsibility for one-third of the amount.
According to him, there is also a responsibility on the part of drug distributors and drug makers, two more parties in the pharmaceutical supply chain that have been sued.
Mark Lanier, a lawyer from Texas who led the trial team for the plaintiffs, said the following about the pharmacy chains: "These firms are tearing the social fabric to shreds." They should demonstrate not only regret but also demonstrate a willingness to make amends for what they have done. And they have no plans to do it. Therefore, the judge is in charge of it.
Representatives from CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart all voiced their displeasure with the decision made by Judge Polster and stated that their respective corporations would appeal the decision. According to a representative named Fraser Engerman, Walgreens has said that they will be appealing the decision. He stated that the judge's analysis was faulty. "We never manufactured or promoted opioids, nor did we supply them to the 'pill mills' and internet pharmacies that drove this catastrophe," he stated. "Pill mills" and internet pharmacies have been major contributors to the opioid crisis.
A spokesman for CVS named Michael DeAngelis stated that the business would file an appeal and added the following: "Pharmacists fill lawful prescriptions issued by D.E.A.-licensed doctors who prescribe legal, F.D.A.-approved drugs to treat actual individuals in need."
"Instead of addressing the real causes of the opioid crisis, such as pill mill doctors, illegal drugs, and regulators asleep at the switch, plaintiffs' lawyers wrongly claimed that pharmacists must second-guess doctors in a way that the law never intended, and many federal and state health regulators say interferes with the doctor-patient relationship," said Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart.
During the trial, Mr. Lanier's experts testified that the counties would require more than $3 billion, a figure that he characterized as akin to "the sun, the moon, and the stars." Mr. Lanier noted that although Judge Polster had only consented to "the moon," he was delighted with the outcome and acknowledged that he was quite pleased with the result.
Adam Zimmerman, who teaches complex litigation at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and who has closely followed the national opioid litigation, stated that one should "Just imagine the costs for the other 3,000 similar plaintiffs in this litigation, or the nearly 20,000 incorporated cities around the country." Given those statistics, it's not surprising that many defendants have opted to reach out-of-court settlements.
The judge determined that the money must be paid in installments over fifteen years. In addition, he ordered the corporations to comply with a stringent set of standards for monitoring and reporting within the next ninety days to guarantee that they will enhance the manner in which they administer opioids and identify any issues. As part of these obligations, you will need to set up hotlines where anonymous tips can be submitted and regulations for internal compliance committees.
In settlement of opioid claims with the state of Florida finalized in May, Judge Polster pointed out that both CVS and Walgreens had already agreed to similar limits. Even though such procedures should have been in place in accordance with federal regulations, this ruling provides further oversight to an external administrator.
The decision made by Judge Polster not only harshly reprimands the pharmacy chains for their business actions in the two counties located in Ohio, but it also serves as an implied warning to these businesses regarding other ongoing cases. The pharmacy chains have shown the slightest willingness to settle legal disputes out of the three categories of defendants.
For instance, earlier this month, the nation's three largest distributors settled with more than one hundred counties and localities in West Virginia for a total of $400 million for how they conducted their business throughout the opioid epidemic. Mr. Lanier, making a tenuous comparison between the settlement and the decision made by Judge Polster, stated that the main message was that "it is a heck of a lot cheaper to settle than it is to lose at trial." He continued by saying, "I mean, they could have settled this for a heck of a lot less than they're doing now." He was referring to the pharmacies when he made this statement.
Judge Polster pointed out that the defendants "generally ignored" his demands to submit remedial suggestions of their own even after the Cleveland jury found them against them. The judge observed that in contrast to the extensive plans provided by the counties, the pharmacy chains' ideas for addressing the ongoing epidemic amounted to a short three-paragraph explanation of drug take-back programs. This was in contrast to the extensive plans provided by the counties.
It's possible that Walgreens will have to pay another hefty fine because of its actions during the opioid epidemic. A federal judge who had presided over a bench trial in a case brought by the city and county of San Francisco earlier this month issued a blunt ruling against the company, holding it responsible for looking the other way while the wreckage brought on by opioid abuse piled up. The case had been brought by the city and county of San Francisco. There has not yet been a decision made regarding the timing or location of the hearing that will determine how much Walgreens must pay to replenish budgets that were drained due to the pandemic.
Pharmacies ordered to pay Lake, Trumbull counties $650M in opioids suit