Verdicts & Settlements

Federal judge orders 3 pharmacy chains to pay over $650M for role in opioid epidemic

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CVS, Walmart and Walgreens must pay $650.6 million to two Ohio counties after contributing to the opioid epidemic, a federal judge said Wednesday.

In the abatement order, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of the Northern District of Ohio said $86.7 million must be paid to Lake County and Trumbull County in Ohio immediately. The rest of the sum must be paid over 15 years, said Polster, who also ordered the pharmacy chains to ensure that they are complying with the Controlled Substances Act to avoid further improper conduct.

“The undersigned must do something no federal judge in history has had to do: determine in equity the scope and cost of the measures necessary to address a small piece of a terrible and tenacious and escalating national tragedy,” Polster said in issuing the order.

Federal jurors found in November 2021 that CVS, Walmart and Walgreens were liable for creating a public nuisance by overdispensing prescription pain pills. Their case is among about 3,000 opioid lawsuits consolidated before Polster alleging that defendants created a public nuisance in the sale and marketing of opioids.

According to Reuters, which reported on the decision, the pharmacies have argued that they cannot be held liable for filing prescriptions legally ordered by physicians.

The opioid epidemic in the United States has resulted in more than 500,000 overdose deaths in the past two decades, Reuters also reported, citing government data.

“With this order, the court takes another small step toward completing the work of this [multidistrict litigation],” Polster said. “Specifically, this abatement order helps to resolve the dispute between some of the parties in two of the 3,000 MDL cases. The court has used its very best efforts to reach a fair and reasoned resolution, with hope that this order (and all of the orders leading up to it) will help the parties and the nation come to a quicker ‘completion of the work.’”

Polster said the court drew strength from the old saying, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

He adopted in large part the plaintiffs’ proposed abatement plan after saying the pharmacy chains failed to offer a realistic plan.

“We look forward to the appeals court review of this case, including the misapplication of public nuisance law,” said CVS in a statement published by Law.com.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CBS News have additional coverage.

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