HealthDay News — Three of the country’s largest pharmacy chains will have to pay $650.5 million over the next 15 years to two Ohio counties for their role in the opioid epidemic, a U.S. federal judge has ordered.
The decision follows a November jury verdict that found CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart pharmacies continued to dispense significant quantities of the drugs even though there were obvious signs of abuse, The New York Times reported.
U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster ruled that the pharmacies were responsible for one-third of the cost the counties will need to deal with the damage the opioid crisis has wrought. Drug manufacturers and distributors are responsible for the other damages, he said. Polster has been the judge in more than 3,000 cases that involve opioid litigation.
Though Mark Lanier, a lawyer for the plaintiff, has said the counties would need more than $3 billion to deal with damage of the opioid epidemic, he was pleased with the smaller amount. “These companies are rending the fabric of society apart,” Lanier said. “They should not only show remorse, they should show they need to rectify what they’ve done. And they won’t do it. So the judge is doing it.”
But Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for Walgreens, said the judge’s analysis was flawed. “We never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis,” he told The Times.
Walgreens and CVS both plan to appeal. On its website, Walmart issued a statement contesting the ruling. “Instead of addressing the real causes of the opioid crisis, like pill mill doctors, illegal drugs, and regulators asleep at the switch, plaintiffs’ lawyers wrongly claimed that 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,” the Walmart statement read.
Judge Polster also ordered the companies to comply with strict monitoring and reporting rules that would show improvement for dispensing opioids and seeing potential abuse problems, The Times reported. This includes anonymous tip hotlines and policies for internal compliance committees. Both CVS and Walgreens already agreed to this in May when settling opioid claims in Florida.