The pharmacies of Walmart, Walgreens and CVS were sentenced on Wednesday August 17 by a judge in Ohio, in the north of the United States, to pay 650.6 million dollars to two counties in this state for their role in the crisis opiates.
“A federal judge sentenced [ces trois entreprises] to pay $650.6 million” in total, to Lake and Trumbull counties, Ohio, the law firm that defended the two counties, The Lanier Law Firm, announced in a press release. This amount will allow “fund education and prevention programs and reimburse agencies and organizations for costs incurred in managing the crisis”he added.
Walmart announced in a statement its intention to appeal, denouncing a lawsuit “riddled with legal and factual errors”. The three retail giants in the United States, which had massively distributed painkillers in these two counties, were found guilty in November.
Lawyers in two counties in Ohio had managed to convince the jury that the massive presence of opiates was indeed a public nuisance and that pharmacies had participated in it by ignoring warning signs about suspicious prescriptions for years.
More than 500,000 dead in 20 years
County officials “simply wanted to be compensated for the burden of a drug epidemic sustained by corporate greed, negligence and lack of accountability by these pharmaceutical chains”commented their lawyer, Mark Lanier, quoted in the press release.
Pharmacy chains believe that pharmacists are simply fulfilling legal prescriptions written by doctors, who prescribe substances approved by health authorities. Some parties had reached agreements with Lake and Trumbull counties to end the lawsuits in exchange for financial payments. This is the case of the pharmacy chains Rite Aid and Giant Eagle.
It was the first time that drug distributors, and not producers, were held responsible for this health crisis, which has caused more than 500,000 deaths by overdose in twenty years in the United States, and which has given rise to a myriad of procedures launched by local authorities.
The conviction of opiate producers based on public nuisance laws has, however, suffered setbacks, in California and Oklahoma. Last summer CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart agreed to pay a total of $26 million to two counties in New York State.