Pharmacy chains failed to stop opioid misuse, U.S. jury hears

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CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Pharmacy operators together with CVS Health Corp and Walmart Inc fueled the U.S. opioid epidemic by failing to cease large portions of addictive painkillers from reaching the black market, a lawyer for 2 Ohio counties mentioned initially of a trial on Monday.

Mark Lanier advised a federal jury in Cleveland listening to the primary trial the pharmacy chains have confronted in nationwide litigation over the epidemic that the businesses bore duty for drug abuse within the counties of Lake and Trumbull.

“They just dispensed like a vending machine,” Lanier mentioned in his opening assertion.

He mentioned the 4 pharmacy operators now on trial, who additionally embody Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Giant Eagle Inc, have been “the last line of defense” in opposition to folks acquiring capsules to illicitly promote on the streets.

Lanier mentioned the businesses didn’t make use of sufficient pharmacists to do the job proper, did not establish “red flags” of misuse and prioritized filling prescriptions shortly whereas sufferers shopped at their retail shops.

“From the very beginning, they were supposed to train their pharmacists, and they didn’t,” Lanier mentioned. “From the very beginning, they should have given the pharmacists the tools they’d need and they didn’t.”

Opening statements are anticipated to proceed into Tuesday. The firms deny wrongdoing, saying criminals have been extra more likely to receive opioids illegally from different sources, together with capsule mills, crooked docs and drug traffickers.

More than 3,300 instances have been introduced largely by state and native governments searching for to carry the businesses liable for an opioid abuse epidemic that U.S. authorities knowledge reveals led to just about 500,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2019.

The pharmacy operators have by no means confronted trial earlier than within the litigation.

Should jurors discover the businesses created a public nuisance, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster will decide how a lot they need to pay to abate, or deal with, the well being disaster within the communities. He has urged the events to settle.

The trial comes after the three largest U.S. distributors that provide pharmacies – McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp – and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) in July proposed paying as much as $26 billion to settle instances in opposition to them.

A chapter decide in August permitted a settlement by OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP and its rich Sackler household homeowners that the corporate values at greater than $10 billion.