A lawyer for two Ohio counties urged a federal jury on Monday to hold three major pharmacy chains responsible for fueling an opioid epidemic in their communities as the first trial the companies have faced over the drug crisis neared its end.
Mark Lanier, a lawyer for Lake and Trumbull counties, told a federal jury in Cleveland that a verdict in the case against CVS Health Corp, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Walmart Inc would have ramifications all across the country.
“You get to decide what will be the most seminal case in pharmacy history,” Lanier said in his closing arguments.
The counties accused the companies of creating a public nuisance in the form of the epidemic by failing to prevent excessive amounts of addictive pain pills from flooding their communities or identify “red flags” of misuse.
“A pharmacy is not a gum ball machine,” Lanier said. “They have more responsibility than simply taking your money and getting you your pills.”
The trial is the first the pharmacy chains have faced in thousands of lawsuits by states and local governments seeking to hold them liable for an epidemic that US health officials say has led to nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths over two decades.
Should the jurors find the pharmacies created a public nuisance, US District Judge Dan Pollster would decide how much they owe to abate, or address, it. The counties’ lawyers have said the costs are potentially $1 billion for each county.
The companies have denied wrongdoing and have said the blame falls on others, including doctors and government regulators. Their lawyers are expected to deliver closing arguments later on Monday.
The Ohio trial follows recent setbacks for plaintiffs pursuing some of the 3 300 opioid cases filed against drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies.
Oklahoma’s top court last Tuesday overturned a $465 million judgment against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, and a California judge this month ruled in favor of four drugmakers in a case brought by several large counties.
Those lawsuits also accused the companies of creating a public nuisance. A similar lawsuit by Washington state against three drug distributors also heads to trial on Monday.