CLEVELAND (AP) — The retail pharmacy chain contributed to a deadly and costly public nuisance in two Ohio counties where the opioid crisis continues, an attorney for the counties said Monday in an opening statement in federal court in Cleveland.
It was the first day of lawsuits against retail pharmacy companies CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Giant Eagle in a 2018 lawsuit filed by Lake and Trumbull counties outside of Cleveland.
“They’re going to say, ‘We’re no part of the problem,'” attorney Mark Lanier said. “They’re going to blame everyone except themselves.”
The cost to end the crisis is $1 billion for each county, one of his lawyers has said. About 80 million prescription painkillers were distributed in Trumbull County between 2012 and 2016 — 400 for each county resident — while Lake County distributed 61 million pills during that five-year period — 265 pills for each resident. .
This is the first time pharmacy companies have taken the test to defend themselves. The trial, which is expected to last about six weeks, could set the tone for similar claims against retail pharmacy chains by government entities across the US.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is presiding over the trial. Close to 3,000 lawsuits filed in federal courts have been consolidated under Pollster’s supervision.
Lawyers for the four pharmacy chains have argued that the companies did not manufacture the drugs and were filling prescriptions written by their pharmacy physicians for patients with a valid medical need.
“Pharmacists fill prescriptions, they don’t tell doctors what to prescribe,” Casper Stoffelmeier, an attorney for Walgreens, said in an opening statement.
Stoffelmeier said the increase in physicians prescribing pain medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone coincided with recognition by medical groups that patients have a right to pain treatment.
The problem, he said, was that “pharmaceutical manufacturers tricked doctors into prescribing too many pills.”
Lanier took the counties’ case, saying that companies didn’t hire enough pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to stop the diversion of pain pills to save money.
“They are the last line of defense to stop the diversion because these are the people who are putting drugs on the road,” Lanier said.
Lawyers for CVS, Walmart and Giant Eagle are expected to make opening statements Tuesday.
In August Rite-Aid settled with two counties, Lake and Trumbull. The company paid Trumbull County $1.5 million. The amount paid to Lake County has not been disclosed.
The trial will be the fourth in the US this year to test claims brought by the government against part of the pharmaceutical industry on the toll of painkillers. Judgments or decisions have not yet been made in others.