IN CLEVELAND Two Ohio counties which sued CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart over the manner the big pharmacy chains supplied opioids to their communities were granted $650 million in damages on Wednesday by a federal judge in Cleveland.
The funds will be utilized, according to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster’s judgment, to combat the opioid crisis in the Cleveland suburbs of Lake and Trumbull counties. Attorneys for the counties estimated the overall cost of the harm done at $3.3 billion.
After proceedings last spring to establish what the counties were owed, the judge reprimanded the three corporations, stating they “squandered the opportunity to propose a genuine proposal to abate the nuisance.”
$306 million will be given to Lake County over a 15-year period. Over the same time frame, $344 million will go to Trumbull County. It was unclear if the corporations had to pay that money while making an appeal after Polster ordered them to promptly pay almost $87 million to cover the first two years of payments.
In a statement, Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck said that today “marks the beginning of a new day in our struggle to tackle the opioid epidemic.”
After a six-week trial, a jury rendered a decision in favor of the counties in November. The court was then given the discretion to choose how much money the counties should get. In order to calculate damages, he heard testimony in May.
The counties persuaded the jury that the pharmacies’ distribution of painkillers contributed significantly to the development of a public nuisance.
It was the first time a pharmacy company successfully defended itself in court during a drug crisis that has claimed 500,000 American lives since 1999.
A number of state attorneys general said they had negotiated a settlement with opioid manufacturer Endo International to pay up to $450 million over ten years on the same day the decision on damages was made. The settlements resolve accusations that the firm oversold the advantages of opioids while underplaying the risk of addiction.
When pharmacists expressed concerns, the pharmacy chains’ attorneys argued that they had procedures in place to stop the flow of medicines and that they would alert authorities to any suspicious doctor orders. Additionally, they claimed that pharmacists had no control over the number of medications provided by doctors for actual medical reasons.
The counties “sued Walmart in quest of deep dollars, and this judgment follows a trial that was contrived to favor the plaintiffs’ counsel and was filled with astounding legal and factual blunders,” according to a statement from Walmart released on Wednesday.
“The facts and the law did not support the jury verdict last fall, and they do not support the court’s ruling now,” said Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for Walgreens.
The judge “made serious legal errors in permitting the matter to proceed before a jury on a defective legal premise that is inconsistent with Ohio law and compounded those errors in reaching its finding regarding damages,” the attorney claimed.
CVS vehemently disagreed with the court’s determination of damages as well as the underlying verdict, according to company spokesperson Michael DeAngelis.
Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas, Walgreens in Illinois, and CVS in Rhode Island.