Politics

2 counties in Ohio got $650 million from pharmacies in opioid suits

In its ruling, Polster chastised the three companies, saying they had “wasted the opportunity to present a meaningful plan to reduce nuisance” after a lawsuit that considered damages they may owe.

CVS, Walmart and Walgreens said they would appeal the decision. It’s unclear whether the companies will have to immediately pay the nearly $87 million in their appeals.

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda hailed the award in a statement, saying “the damage caused by this devastating outbreak” can now be addressed.

Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck said in a statement, “Today marks the start of a new day in our fight to end the opioid epidemic.”

A jury returned a verdict in November in favor of the counties after a six-week trial. It was then left to Polster to decide how much the counties should receive from the three pharmaceutical companies. He heard evidence in May to determine the damage.

The counties convinced the jury that pharmacies played an outsized role in creating a public nuisance in the way they dispensed painkillers in their communities.

It was the first time drug companies have completed a lawsuit to defend themselves in a drug crisis that has killed half a million Americans since 1999.

Lawyers for the drugstore chains argued they had policies to stem the flow of pills when their pharmacists had concerns and would notify authorities of suspicious orders from doctors. They also said it was the doctors who controlled the number of pills prescribed for legitimate medical needs and not their pharmacies.

Walmart released a statement on Wednesday saying county attorneys “sued Walmart for deep pockets, and this judgment follows a lawsuit that was designed to favor plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with legal errors and remarkable facts”.

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

“The court made significant legal errors in allowing the case to go to a jury on an erroneous legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law and compounded those errors in reaching its decision on damages. .”

CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said, “We strongly disagree with the Court’s decision on the county reduction plan, as well as the underlying verdict from last fall.”

CVS is based in Rhode Island, Walgreens in Illinois and Walmart in Arkansas.

Two chains – Rite Aid and Giant Eagle – settled lawsuits with the counties before the trial. The amounts they paid have not been publicly disclosed.

Mark Lanier, a counties attorney, said during the trial that the pharmacies were trying to blame everyone but themselves.

The opioid crisis has overwhelmed the courts, social service agencies and law enforcement in Ohio’s blue-collar corner east of Cleveland, leaving behind heartbroken families and babies born drug-addicted mothers, Lanier told jurors.

About 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016, which equates to 400 for every resident. In Lake County, some 61 million pills were dispensed during that time.

The increase in the number of doctors prescribing painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone came as medical groups began to recognize that patients have a right to be treated for pain, said Kaspar Stoffelmayr, attorney for Walgreens, at the opening of the trial.

The problem, he said, was that “pharmaceutical companies got doctors to write way too many pills.”

The counties said pharmacies should be the last line of defense to prevent pills from falling into the wrong hands.

The lawsuit before Polster was part of a larger constellation of about 3,000 federal opioid lawsuits grouped under his oversight. Other cases are progressing in state courts.

Kevin Roy, director of public policy at Shatterproof, an organization that advocates for addiction solutions, said in November that the verdict could cause pharmacies to follow the path of large distribution companies and some drugmakers who concluded national opioid case settlements worth billions. So far, no pharmacy has reached a nationwide settlement.

Also on Wednesday, multiple state attorneys general announced they had reached an agreement with Endo International plc to pay up to $450 million over 10 years to settle allegations that the company used deceptive marketing practices. “which minimize the risk of addiction and exaggerate the benefits” of opioids it produces.

Based in Ireland, Endo’s US headquarters are in Malvern, Pennsylvania. The company did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on Wednesday.

The agreement provides that the $450 million will be divided among participating states and communities. It is also asking Endo to post opioid-related documents online for public viewing and pay $2.75 million in expenses to publicly archive those documents.

Endo will never be able to market opioids again, according to the agreement.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday evening.

Endo produces generic opioids and name brands such as Percocet and Endocet. The company’s Opana ER opioid was pulled from the market in 2017. Attorneys general say Endo “falsely promoted the benefits” of Opana ER’s “so-called abuse deterrent formulation.” Attorneys general have said the formulation has failed to deter abuse of the drug and has led to deadly epidemics of hepatitis and HIV resulting from people who inject the drug.

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