CVS, Walmart, Walgreens held liable for roles in opioid crisis

Marianne Wilson
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Walmart will appeal the verdict of a federal jury in Cleveland that found it, along with CVS Health and Walgreens, liable for roles in the opioid crisis.

Three of the nation’s largest retailers and pharmacy chains substantially contributed to the crisis of opioid overdoses and deaths in two Ohio counties, according to a federal jury in Cleveland.

The jury found that CVS Health, Walgreens and Walmart recklessly distributed pain pills in Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull counties and played a hand in the hundreds of overdose deaths that occurred across the communities. The verdict is the first from a jury in an opioids case and could set a precedent for other local governments that seek to hold pharmacies accountable.

The trial judge will determine how much each company could pay the counties following hearings that have not yet been scheduled. Two other chains. Rite Aid and Giant Eagle, have settled lawsuits with the two Ohio counties.

Walmart issued a statement saying it would appeal the “flawed verdict, which is a reflection of a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes.” (Walmart’s full statement is at end of article.)

Attorneys for the chains contended they had policies in place to stem the flow of pills when their pharmacists had any concerns and would notify authorities about suspicious orders from doctors, the AP reported. They also said it was the doctors who controlled how many pills were being prescribed for legitimate medical needs.  To read the full AP story, click here.

Here is the full statement by Walmart on the jury verdict.

“We will appeal this flawed verdict, which is a reflection of a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes.

Among the many problems during this trial, the judge allowed it to continue after a juror violated court rules by conducting her own research and sharing it with other jurors. The judge even said that in his 22 years on the bench he had never seen a juror do “anything like” this, and we agree with the plaintiffs’ own lawyer, when he said it was his “ethical obligation” to call for a mistrial because of this juror misconduct. Additionally, this verdict is out of step with courts around the country that have rejected plaintiffs’ novel “public nuisance” liability theories in opioid lawsuits in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, California, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and South Dakota, to name a few.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart in search of deep pockets while ignoring the real causes of the opioid crisis—such as pill mill doctors, illegal drugs, and regulators asleep at the switch—and they wrongly claimed pharmacists must second-guess doctors in a way the law never intended and many federal and state health regulators say interferes with the doctor-patient relationship. As a pharmacy industry leader in the fight against the opioid crisis, Walmart is proud of our pharmacists, who are dedicated to helping patients in the face of a tangled web of conflicting federal and state opioid guidelines.”