A federal jury in Ohio on Tuesday held CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart pharmacies liable for their role in fueling the opioid crisis, The Associated Press reports.
The three pharmacy chains recklessly distributed massive quantities of opioid pain killers in two Ohio counties, the jury ruled.
Attorneys for the counties accused the pharmacies of flooding them with pain pills, resulting in hundreds of overdose deaths and costing each county more than $1 billion.
A federal judge is expected to rule on how much the pharmacies must pay in damages in the spring.
"This is a landmark decision because it's the first time the issues of the opioid epidemic have been tried against these national chain pharmacies," Mark Lanier, a lawyer for the counties, told reporters on Tuesday. "The jury was able to assess those national measures that have been put in place by those pharmaceutical chains and shout out from the rooftops, 'inadequate,'" Lanier added.
First time pharmacies held liable:
The verdict marked the first one blaming pharmacies for the opioid epidemic.
The lawyers for the counties argued that the pharmacies played a large role in fueling the crisis by failing to restrict the distribution of pain medication.
"The law requires pharmacies to be diligent in dealing drugs. This case should be a wake-up call that failure will not be accepted," Lanier said.
"The jury sounded a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America," he added.
Rite Aid and Giant Eagle pharmacy chains previously reached settlements with the two counties.
Pharmacies to appeal:
Representatives for CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens vowed to appeal.
"As plaintiffs' own experts testified, many factors have contributed to the opioid abuse issue, and solving this problem will require involvement from all stakeholders in our health care system and all members of our community," CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis said in a statement.
"We will appeal this flawed verdict, which is a reflection of a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs' attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes," Walmart said in a statement. Among those problems, one juror violated court rules by "conducting her own research and sharing it with other jurors," the company added.
"As we have said throughout this process, we never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did we distribute them to the 'pill mills' and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis," Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said in a statement. "The plaintiffs' attempt to resolve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law is misguided and unsustainable."