Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Major retailers found liable for opioid epidemic in 2 Ohio counties; ruling bolsters public-nuisance legal strategy

Recent court rulings in Oklahoma and California rejected claims that drug companies were responsible for the opioid epidemic, but an Ohio court ruling this week was a positive signal for other lawsuits using the strategy of claiming a public nuisance. Those cases could bring billions of dollars in payouts to states and municipalities to mitigate the addiction crisis.

On Tuesday a court ruled that major retailers CVS, Walgreens and Walmart helped fuel the opioid epidemic in two Cleveland-area counties. Jurors in a federal court concluded that the pharmacy chains' actions in Lake and Trumbull counties "helped create a public nuisance that resulted in an oversupply of addictive pain pills and the diversion of those opioids to the black market, Nate Raymond reports for Reuters. The verdict is the first the companies have faced over the issue.

The prosecutor will seek more than $1 billion from the companies to help the two counties address the toll of addiction, but "Judge Dan Polster will decide how much the companies owe to abate the epidemic in the counties and is expected to hold a trial on that question in April or May," Reuters reports.

The companies say they plan to appeal the verdict, citing recent Oklahoma and California rulings as proof that the public-nuisance claim was inappropriately applied. "The pharmacy chains have blamed drugmakers for marketing the addictive medications, and doctors for overprescribing, arguing that others were significantly responsible for the flood of legal opioids that were diverted to illegal use," Meryl Kornfield and Lenny Bernstein report for The Washington Post. "But federal law puts a 'corresponding responsibility' on the pharmacist to determine that a prescription he or she fills is for a legitimate medical purpose." Other chains such as Rite Aid and Giant Eagle have previously settled with the counties for undisclosed sums in the matter.

It's unclear whether the public-nuisance strategy will ultimately prove effective. Similar claims are ongoing elsewhere, in state courts in New York and Washington, and a federal court in West Virginia, Kornfield and Bernstein report.

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