Pharmacy chains face first trial over U.S. opioid epidemic By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Walgreens store is seen in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. February 11, 2021. REUTERS/Eileen T. Meslar

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – The first trial of four large pharmacy chains over the deadly U.S. opioid epidemic was set to begin on Monday, as two Ohio counties seek to convince jurors the companies are responsible for flooding their communities with addictive pain pills.

The Ohio counties of Lake and Trumbull allege that oversight failures at pharmacies run by Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:) Inc, CVS Health Corp (NYSE:), Walmart (NYSE:) Inc and Giant Eagle Inc led to excessive amounts of opioid pills flooding their communities.

Lawyers for the counties and companies will deliver opening statements to a federal jury in Cleveland, where thousands of similar lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, drug distributors and pharmacies are pending.

More than 3,300 cases have been brought largely by state and local governments seeking to hold the companies responsible for an opioid abuse epidemic that U.S. government data shows led to nearly 500,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2019.

The pharmacy operators deny wrongdoing. CVS said its pharmacies “fill legitimate prescriptions written by licensed doctors.”

Walgreens said it took pride in the judgment of its pharmacists, and Giant Eagle said pharmacy inspectors concluded it complied with the law. Walmart did not respond to requests for comment.

Should a jury find the companies liable, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster will determine how much they must pay to abate, or address, the health crisis in the communities. He has urged the parties to settle.

The trial comes after the three largest U.S. distributors that supply pharmacies – McKesson Corp (NYSE:), Cardinal Health Inc (NYSE:) and AmerisourceBergen (NYSE:) Corp – and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:) in July proposed paying up to $26 billion to settle cases against them.

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.

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