The retail segment of the drug industry has been held accountable for the first time for the crisis of opiate overdoses and deaths in two Ohio counties, after a federal jury in Cleveland found that three of the nation's largest pharmacy chains had contributed to the crisis.
The trial judge will make a decision on how much each company should pay.
The jury's verdict in the first case of its kind was positive for the thousands of lawsuits that rely on the same legal strategy: that pharmaceutical companies contributed to a public nuisance.
The public nuisance argument was rejected by judges in California and Oklahoma. The judges found that the companies activities were removed from the overdoses and deaths because of the public nuisance laws in their states.
The legal claim was successfully used by the lawyers for the plaintiffs. They argued that for years, the pharmacies had turned a blind eye to many red flags about suspicious orders, both at local counter where patients obtained the drugs and at corporate headquarters, where oversight requirements were.
The jury deliberated for five and a half days.
The first trial against these major household names is about the use of the drug. The verdict is a small sign that these cases won't play out well in front of juries, because they have been the least willing group of defendants to settle. He said that it could make some pharmacy defendants think about settling rather than going to trial.
Mr. Zimmerman said that the lawsuits, which span the country and are scheduled to go to trial in a number of state and federal courts, still have a long way to go.
The three recent outcomes may have little to do with the fact that each state has its own public nuisance law.
Even as thousands of cases have been filed, the need to get help to communities ravaged by the drug has not waned. Data released last week shows that overdose deaths from the drugs have reached record levels, driven by the rise in deaths from heroin and street drugs.
The last cluster of pharmaceutical corporations to be pursued in the courts were the deep-pocketed retailers. They have faced less lawsuits than other companies.
In the summer of this year, Walmart, Walgreens, and others settled with two New York counties for $26 million. In the Ohio case, the regional chain Giant Eagle settled earlier for undisclosed sums.
Billions of dollars have been committed in settlement offers by some manufacturers and distributors of the drug.
The lawyers for the two counties and lawyers for local governments across the country said in a statement after the verdict that the judgement against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the "overdue" reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance.
Walmart, Walgreens and CVS said they would appeal the verdict. According to the statement, "Pharmacists fill legal prescriptions written by D.E.A.-licensed doctors who prescribe legal, F.D.A.-approved substances to treat actual patients in need."
We look forward to the appeals court review of this case, including the misapplication of public nuisance law.
The trial lawyer for the counties said in closing arguments that the pharmacy chains were making money off every pill they sold.
They don't make money off a refusal to fill.
He said that licensed pharmacists have a duty to question suspicious prescriptions.
The jury was told that the corporate entities should have been on notice when the Drug Enforcement Administration began pursuing Florida chain pharmacy for pumping out opioids that landed as far away as Ohio.
The jury had to decide if the oversupply of prescription pills had created a public nuisance in each county.
The public nuisance law requires a crisis to continue. Increased oversight from state and federal monitoring programs, revised guidelines for doctors and corporate compliance have led to a decrease in the number of prescriptions for opiate drugs.
Patients who were addicted to the pills turned to heroin and illegal drugs when the supply went down, according to the counties lawyers. The lawyers said that the result was a direct descendant of the floods of prescription pills.
The jury moved on to a second question after they found that a public nuisance existed related to the crisis. Did the conduct of each pharmacy chain contribute to the public nuisance of the opiate crisis?
Under the law, defendants must pay tobate the nuisance that they caused.
The verdict in this civil case had to be unanimous. The jury needed to apply only the greater weight of evidence as a standard of proof, which is lower than the level of "beyond a reasonable doubt" required to render a guilty verdict in criminal trials.
The pharmacy lawyers argued that the appeals courts might find persuasive. The quantity of pills they sold was low, and their stores amounted to a small fraction of the total number of hospitals and clinics that sell the drug.
The image is.
A safe medication disposal box is located at a drugstore.
Their lawyers argued that there were too many reasons for the explosion of the drugs in the counties. They pointed to the family medicine cabinets as a repository for illegal diversion, as well as to manufacturers who oversold the benefits of opioids, and to doctors who were urged to treat pain more aggressively.
Brian Swanson, a lawyer for Walgreens, said that it was the prescribers who control demand. "Pharmacists don't create demand."
Lawyers pointed the finger at the federal authorities. They said that the drugs were approved by the FDA and that the D.E.A. set the annual limit on how many could be produced in the country.
John Majoras, a lawyer for Walmart, referred to the bridges over the Cuyahoga River in his closing argument. He said that the bridge that was supposed to connect all the elements was not built.
Mr. Lanier stood up for his speech. He said he had been waiting to talk about the bridge. A model bridge made of Legos was produced by him.
He acknowledged that there were many contributors to the crisis. He argued that the pharmacy could not escape responsibility by claiming that they only put a small amount of the drug into the counties.
The community depends on the bridge's steel trestles.
He wondered if there were two or three rotten people in the wrong place. He knocked out a few. The model shattered in front of the jury as he said, "everything can fall."
It is not certain whether this verdict will survive on appeal. In addition to the many legal questions arising from the case, defendants are expected to continue their criticism of the judge who presided over the trial.
The statement from Walgreens seemed to predict more. The trial court allowed the case to go before a jury on a flawed legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law, it said.
There is a dispute over whether a mistrial should have been declared. The trial continued after the juror was dismissed for showing other jurors her research. The pharmacy retailers believe that Judge Polster appeared to favor them. He has urged all sides to settle so that relief can start flowing to the communities ravaged by the opiate crisis.