Sunday, May 19, 2024


“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

— William Wilberforce


Ohio Jury Found Pharmacies Liable for Fueling the Opioid Crisis

opioid crisis

On Nov. 23, 2021, a federal jury in Ohio held pharmacies liable for their role in the epidemic of opioid use in America. The jury found that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart were responsible for inappropriately dispensing large amounts of opioid drugs prescribed by doctors that caused hundreds of deaths from overdoses. Rite Aid and Giant Eagle previously settled with the counties.1

The verdict in Lake and Trumbell counties was the first of its kind. Never before had pharmacies dispensing prescribed pain killers been held liable for the opoid crisis, which reportedly has resulted in the death of half a million Americans. The county lawyer, Mark Lanier, said:

The law requires pharmacies to be diligent in dealing drugs. This case should be a wake-up call that failure will not be accepted…The jury sounded a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America.2

Many Opoid Prescriptions Were Sold on the Black Market

Between 2012 and 2016, approximately 80 million pain pills prescribed by doctors were dispensed in Trumbull County, which would have been enough to allow every person in the county to get 400 pills each and Lake County saw at least 61 million pills dispensed.3 Once dispensed, many of these pills were sold on the black market.4 The jury found that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart were liable for contributing to a public nuisance by dispensing so many opioid pills unchecked without regard to the potential effect on the community, which ultimately led to deaths by overdose and addiction and overwhelmed courts, social services and law enforcement.5

The Ohio counties argued that the pharmacies were the last line of defense in controlling the distribution of pain pills and should have prevented them from getting in the wrong hands.6 The pharmacies denied culpability claiming that the opioid crisis occurred because doctors over-prescribe opioids (“pill mill doctors”) and because there is an illegal drug trade and absent drug regulators. The defendants further claimed that the law never intended for pharmacists to play the role of a prescription drug use watchdog and second guess doctor’s orders.7

A CVS spokesman said:

We strongly disagree with the decision. Pharmacists fill legal prescriptions written by DEA-licensed doctors who prescribe legal, FDA-approved substances to treat actual patients in need.8

A Walgreen spokesperson concurred…

As we have said throughout this process, we never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis. The plaintiffs’ attempt to resolve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law is misguided and unsustainable.9

Did Pharmacies Create a Public Nuisance?

The Ohio counties filed the lawsuit in 2018 as part of the federal multi-district litigation that was created in response to the large number of lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers and distributers. The counties claimed that the pharmacies created a public nuisance as they “abused their position of special trust and responsibility” and “fostered a black market for prescription opioids.”10

 The argument that pharmacies are liable for acting as a public nuisance has already lost in courts in Oklahoma and California last month.11 The Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a $465 million verdict against Johnson and Johnson based on the same public nuisance theory. Currently, two trials on the same issue are proceeding in Washington state and New York with a trial in West Virginia finished but waiting on a verdict.12

Damages in the Ohio case will be assessed in the spring, but the counties are asking for over a billion dollars each, planning to put the funds towards opioid abatement measures.13

Kim Frasier, head of Lake County’s Department of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, said:

Truly, in Lake County, we have not had a corner of the county that has not been impacted by this epidemic. This verdict gives voice to those individuals and those families who have been so traumatized.14

County attorney Lanier feels that justice was served, stating:

For decades, pharmacy chains have watched as the pills flowing out of their doors cause harm and failed to take action as required by law. Instead, these companies responded by opening up more locations, flooding communities with pills, and facilitating the flow of opioids into an illegal, secondary market. The judgment today against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance.15

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8 Responses

  1. First off if I owned those pharmacies I would appeal the verdict. If we lost or were not allowed to do it I would stop selling all those opioids if it is not against the law. I’m sure they made a pretty penny off these drugs but I would not want to have to have another lawsuit on my hands. The government approved all these drugs and was paid by the pharmaceutical companies to do it and doctors write the prescriptions. They are the ones responsible. 40 years ago my brother was at a doctors office and stole his prescription pad and wrote out prescriptions for himself and others and sold them. I did not find out about it until long after he passed or I’d have reported him.

    1. I agree. The pill mill greedy doctors are at primarily fault. Perhaps the pharmacies should have reported obvious over-prescribers to their state licensing boards, and perhaps some did. However the big pharmacy chains were targeted because they have the deep pockets. I don’t see where they broke any laws. Their job is to dispense FDA approved drugs prescribed by licensed doctors. Their violation was therefore more of an ethical violation than a legal issue. I am sure that they will appeal the verdict.

  2. Do we really want pharmacies to have the power to deny physicians’ prescriptions for hydroxychlorquine and ivermectin if they deem these products to be a “public nuisance”?

  3. My husband is a pharmacy tech for Walmart. His pharmacist will not fill unless they meet certain guidelines. Now Tricare is pulling their contract with Walmart and suing Walmart for breech of contract because Walmart will not fill prescriptions that do not meet those guidelines: waiting a certain length of time between fills, Dr signing off certain checklists saying the patient is not addicted, etc. The Dr’s, government, everyone is passing the blame and not taking responsibility while virtue signaling and condemning the opioid epidemic.

  4. I am a bit confused about the ruling in these cases as I do not understand or see the logic in having pharmacies be the gate keepers for dispensing prescription drugs. Their role is to fill what a doctor or dentist (and other with prescriptions’ rights) has prescribed.
    I strongly believe that the prescriber is the person who should be held accountable. First those with prescription’s right should learn to be a bit more atune to the needs and risks for their patients.
    I recently had to visit a dentist as an emergency due to an infection on a root canal. Although I have been a patient in that practice for a few years, no one has ever bothered to ask me questions about my personal habits. I needed surgical extraction of the tooth. Without asking me the dentist prescribed antibiotic and hydrocodone!. I was shocked when I got to the pharmacy to see what had been prescribed and told the pharmacist that I did not want the narcotics. I later told my dentist that I would have appreciated for him to ask me if I would ever need narcotics for pain before prescribing it.
    My point here is that it is becoming second nature for some doctors and dentists (at least) to just prescribe narcotics the minute pain is mentioned and no one ever bother to ask about history of addiction. So yes, in my book they are responsible for the crisis, not the pharmacies.

  5. Great, now even when a doctor gives someone a legit pain medicine script they will probably refuse to fill it. I feel sorry for any that suffer from chronic pain like me. I don’t take opioid but many people do.

  6. This was a very bad ruling. The problem is not overprescription of opioids but government regulation of same. A big reason for today’s black market in opioids is because people with legitimate chronic pain cannot get the drugs they need – due to intense regulation. They usually die from drugs cut with fentanyl, not your typical opioid prescription.
    The war on drugs is much worse than a failure – it’s the problem. It needs to end.

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