For a couple of years the alarms went off for the health authorities of the United States. Opioids, one of the most powerful painkillers for treating pain, also began to appear on the list of top addictions. The addiction figures have reached alarming levels, generating an unprecedented crisis that has caused more than 500,000 deaths in the country in the last two decades.
This week, for the first time, a jury verdict determined that large pharmacy chains such as CVS, Walmart and Walgreens were also responsible for this North American opioid crisis. CVS, for example, is the largest drug store chain in the United States, with about 10,000 stores. Walgreens has 9,277 and Walmart 4,700.
According to the Cleveland Federal Court judge, the three companies contributed to the crisis in two Ohio counties (Lake and Trumbell) by massively distributing these painkillers. The dispatch of significant quantities of opiates, he pointed out, generated an “excess supply” of these drugs and “public damage.” The decision was made after deliberating for five and a half days, and after a trial that lasted six weeks.
The case sets a precedent: it is the first court decision against pharmacies. In other words, It is the first time that drug distributors, rather than manufacturers, have also been found responsible in this public health crisis.
Between April 2020 and April 2021 alone, there were 100,306 fatal overdoses in the United States, according to provisional figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What are the implications of this decision?
Lake County celebrated the verdict. As they explained, between 2012 and 2016 about 265 pills were dispensed per resident in the area. “Most of us know someone who has been affected by opiates and future resources will allow the county and our partners to provide more resources to get people’s lives back on track,” said County Commissioner Ron Young.
Now a federal judge will be in charge of evaluating the sanctions against the three pharmacy chains. It will decide how much those companies will have to pay complainants (i.e. Lake and Trumbull counties in Ohio).
In a statement, the plaintiffs stressed that “for decades pharmaceutical chains have seen how the pills that come out of their doors cause damage, and have failed to take the actions required by law.”
Instead, they continued, “these companies have responded by opening in more locations, flooding communities with pills and facilitating the flow of opiates to illegal, secondary markets.”
For its part, CVS said it was “strongly” in disagreement with the jury’s ruling and is “proud” of the “important” work it has done to support its pharmacists in the detection of illegal prescriptions.
“However, the simple fact is that opioid prescriptions are written by doctors, not pharmacists; opioid drugs are manufactured and sold by manufacturers, not pharmacists; and our health system depends on pharmacists to meet the legal prescriptions that doctors see necessary for their patients, ”CVS explained.
The retail chain announced that it will appeal the resolution, arguing “a misuse” of the law of public prejudice.
Walmart announced that it will also appeal and dismissed as “flawed” the jury’s verdict, which it sees as “a reflection of a trial that was designed to favor the attorneys of the complainants.”
The jury’s decision could serve as a precedent for other lawsuits across the country seeking to hold drug companies to account for the opioid crisis, which has killed half a million Americans.
(Taken from The viewer)
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