America’s three largest pharmacies have been found to be liable for helping fuel a painkiller crisis in two Ohio counties, in a landmark case.
A federal court ruled that Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS, and Walmart’s actions contributed to an oversupply of addictive opioid pills.
A future hearing will be held to determine the scale of compensation to be paid to the two Ohio counties.
CVS stated that it would appeal the decision.
The other retailers, who all contested the cases, did not respond right away.
Over the last two decades, millions of Americans have become addicted to legal opiate-based painkillers such as Fentanyl and OxyContin due to over-prescription and abuse.
Between 1999 and 2019, nearly 500,000 people died as a result of painkiller overdoses.
Local and state governments say the opioid epidemic strained their resources as they attempted to combat it through social programmes and the legal system.
Around 3,300 other cases are being filed in an attempt to recoup some of those costs from companies that profited from the painkiller sales.
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Along with pharmacy chains, large pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals have been accused of turning a blind eye to the issue.
Lawyers for the two Ohio counties of Lake and Trumbull said the costs for each county to cover social and legal expenses related to the opioid epidemic could be $1 billion.
“Today’s judgement against Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS represents an overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance,” the companies said in a joint statement.
They claimed that the pharmacies caused a public nuisance by failing to ensure the validity of opioid prescriptions, allowing an excessive amount of addictive pain pills to flood their communities.
Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS, and Walmart all denied the allegations, claiming that they had taken precautions to prevent painkillers from being diverted from their intended legal use.
In a statement, CVS stated that it strongly disagreed with the verdict and planned to appeal.
“Many factors have contributed to the opioid abuse issue, as plaintiffs’ own experts testified, and solving this problem will require involvement from all stakeholders in our healthcare system and all members of our community,” CVS said.
Other cases across the country are using the “public nuisance” defence to target the companies involved in the manufacture and distribution of opioid painkillers.
However, earlier this month, courts in Oklahoma and California rejected it as a legal argument in drug-maker litigation.