Pharmacy chains should pay $878 million for role in opioid epidemic, Ohio counties say

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CLEVELAND, May 10 (Reuters) – A two-county attorney in Ohio said Monday that CVS Health Corp (CVS.N), Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (WBA.O) and Walmart Inc (WMT.N) filed a 878- million-dollar plan to address the opioid crisis there when a first-of-its-kind study was underway to determine the contribution of pharmacy chains.

A federal jury ruled in November that the companies had created a public nuisance by flooding Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull counties with addictive prescription painkillers that ended up on the black market. Continue reading

Now the counties want the companies to fund an $878 million five-year plan that, according to Mark Lanier, an attorney representing the counties, on Monday was aimed at solving the opioid crisis, rather than assigning blame.

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Lanier’s comments came at the start of a two-week trial before US Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who will decide how the companies should rectify a public nuisance caused by prescription opioids.

“I was assigned to do something that no other federal judge in our country has been assigned to do,” said Polster at the start of a trial without a jury.

CVS, Walgreens and Walmart have denied the counties’ claims and said they would appeal the November verdict.

The companies have offered to fund a year-long program to buy back unused prescription opioid drugs in the two counties. They argue that Ohio’s public harassment law only obliges them to stop what the jury found to be harassment — an oversupply of prescription drugs — and not address all of its harmful effects on communities.

The companies argued that they should not be forced to bear costs related to illicit drug use when they had to do more than buy back drugs.

The counties have argued that illicit drug use needs to be addressed at trial because addictions caused by the oversupply of prescription drugs have created a market for illicit drugs like heroin and synthetic fentanyl.

The US opioid epidemic has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths in two decades, according to government data. More than 3,300 opioid lawsuits have been filed nationwide against drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains, prompting a recent spate of settlement proposals.

The Ohio counties public harassment theory has rarely been tested in court and has had mixed results in other courts.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a $465 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) on Nov. 9, and a California judge in November ruled in favor of four drugmakers in a case brought by several major ones districts was attempted.

A New York jury in December found drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (TEVA.TA) responsible for causing a public nuisance in the state, though the amount Teva must pay will be determined in a court hearing later in 2022.

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Reporting by Grant Segall in Cleveland and Dietrich Knauth in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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