CVS, Walgreens and Walmart must pay $650.5 million in Ohio opioids case

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A federal judge on Wednesday ordered pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Walmart to pay $650.5 million to two Ohio counties, saying the companies are accountable for their part in fueling the opioid epidemic in the area.

Judge Dan Polster ruled that the three pharmacies were responsible for one-third of the amount that Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull counties would need to address the continuing damage brought on by the misuse of opioids, Reuters reported.

A jury ruled last year that the pharmacies played a significant role in the crisis faced by the two counties

Attorneys representing the counties had estimated the total damage they suffered from opioid misuse at $3 billion. Lake County will get $306 million over 15 years and Trumbull County will receive $344 million over the same period.

Polster told the companies to pay nearly $87 million right away. All three companies said they would appeal the ruling.

In a statement Wednesday, Walmart said the counties “sued Walmart in search of deep pockets, and this judgment follows a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes.”

Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for Walgreens, said: “The facts and the law did not support the jury verdict last fall, and they do not support the court’s decision now.”

CVS called the decision a “misapplication of public nuisance law,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“We strongly disagree with the Court’s decision regarding the counties’ abatement plan, as well as last fall’s underlying verdict,” the statement said. “Pharmacists fill legal prescriptions written by DEA-licensed doctors who prescribe legal, FDA-approved substances to treat actual patients in need.”

Polster also ordered the companies to comply with a strict series of monitoring and reporting rules within 90 days. The requirements include putting in place hotlines for anonymous tips and policies for internal compliance committees, The New York Times reported.

In November, a jury found that the counties were due money from the pharmacies because they played a significant role in the crisis faced by the two counties. The judge heard testimony in May to determine damages.

The counties’ attorneys argued that the retailers oversupplied the Ohio counties with more pills than could have possibly been medically necessary, The Washington Post reported.

Between 2012 and 2016, pharmacies dispensed 61 million pills in Lake County, enough to supply every man, woman and child with 265 pills, lawyers have estimated.

Opioid misuse has killed half a million Americans since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.