Ohio Federal Court Awards More Than $650 Million Against Pharmacies for Driving Opioid Crisis

Pills pouring from pharmacy bottle

Lanier Law Firm secures another victory for local governments

CLEVELAND — In a first-of-its-kind trial, a federal judge has ordered a $650.6 million judgment sought by two Ohio counties against retail giants CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Walmart Inc. for their roles in failing to control the spread of deadly and addictive prescription opioids. The award will allow Lake and Trumbull counties to fund education and prevention programs and reimburse local agencies and organizations for costs incurred to manage the crisis.

“These governments simply wanted restitution for the burden of dealing with a drug epidemic supported by the corporate greed, negligence and lack of responsibility of these pharmaceutical chains,” says Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm, who represented the counties at trial. “We are pleased that the court recognized that there are cogent and workable plans in place to address the needs of their respective communities, which this award will turn into reality.”

In addition to Mr. Lanier, the trial team was led by Peter Weinberger of Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP, and Frank Gallucci of Plevin & Gallucci Co. Other firms representing the plaintiffs include Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, Motley Rice LLC and Farrell & Fuller LLC.

The 76-page order by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster requires the defendants to immediately pay $86.7 million into an abatement fund for the counties’ use, with the remainder of the funds allocated over the next 15 years.

The order also establishes an injunction “directing that the Pharmacy Defendants undertake certain actions to ensure they are complying fully with the Controlled Substances Act and avoiding further improper dispensing conduct.”

In November, a federal jury determined that the companies were liable for creating a public nuisance by recklessly dispensing opioids and enabling the epidemic in the two counties located in the northeastern part of the state. The case was the first to go to trial involving the role of pharmacies in the epidemic. It is considered a bellwether, as much of the evidence and production of documents will affect scores of other lawsuits that are pending before Judge Polster from cities and counties across the nation.

Testimony during the trial revealed that about 5,400 people in Lake County and 7,500 people in Trumbull County suffered from opioid dependency as of 2019. In Lake County, 232 of 350 opioid overdose deaths from 2015-2019 could be directly or indirectly linked to prescription opioids; in Trumbull County, 289 of the 446 deaths during that span could be attributed to prescription painkillers.

Earlier this year, a Lanier Law Firm team helped gain a $1.85 billion settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors to settle claims brought by the state of Texas.

The U.S. opioid epidemic has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths over two decades, according to government data. More than 3,300 opioid lawsuits have been filed nationally against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacy chains, leading to a recent wave of proposed settlements.

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