CLEVELAND Oct 4 (Reuters) – Drugstore operators including CVS Health Corp (CVS.N) and Walmart Inc (WMT.N) fueled the opioid epidemic in the United States by failing to prevent massive amounts of addictive pain relievers to reach the black market, one lawyer for two Ohio counties said Monday at the start of a lawsuit.
Mark Lanier told a federal jury in Cleveland during the hearing of the first trial that drugstore chains faced in a nationwide litigation over the epidemic that companies were responsible for drug abuse in the counties of Lake and Trumbull.
“They just distributed like a vending machine,” Lanier said in his opening statement.
He said the four pharmacists currently on trial, which also include Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (WBA.O) and Giant Eagle Inc (GIAEG.UL), were “the last line of defense” against people getting pills to. illegally sell on the street. .
Lanier said companies did not employ enough pharmacists to do the job properly, failed to identify “red flags” of abuse, and prioritized prompt filling of prescriptions while patients were shopping at their retail stores.
“Right from the start, they were supposed to train their pharmacists, and they didn’t,” Lanier said. “Right from the start, they should have given pharmacists the tools they needed and they didn’t.”
Kaspar Stoffelmayr, an attorney for Walgreens, countered that others were to blame for the upsurge in pain relievers, including the doctors who prescribed them and regulators who saw pain as needing life-saving treatment.
“Pharmacists don’t create demands,” he said. “They don’t tell doctors what prescriptions to write.”
Most cases of opioid diversion for illicit purposes did not involve pharmacies, Stoffelmayr said. He cited a study showing that most prescribed pain relievers go unused and stay in medicine cabinets. “A lot of them end up in the wrong hands.”
Opening statements will continue on Tuesday with arguments from other companies. They deny wrongdoing, saying criminals were more likely to illegally obtain opioids from other sources, including pill mills, crooked doctors and drug dealers.
More than 3,300 cases have been brought in largely by state and local governments seeking to hold companies accountable for an epidemic of opioid abuse that, according to U.S. government data, has resulted in nearly 500,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2019.
The pharmacy operators have never been tried before in the litigation.
If jurors find that businesses are creating a public nuisance, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster will determine how much they must pay to alleviate or resolve the health crisis in the communities. He urged the parties to come to an agreement. Read more
The trial comes after the three largest U.S. distributors that supply drugstores – McKesson Corp (MCK.N), Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N) and AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC.N) – and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ.N) in July offered to pay up to $ 26 billion to settle the cases against them. Read more
A bankruptcy judge in August approved a settlement by OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP and its wealthy Sackler family owners that the company values at more than $ 10 billion. Read more
Reporting by Grant Segall in Cleveland and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Bill Berkrot
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