A federal judge in Cleveland awarded $650 million in damages to two Ohio counties that sued massive pharmaceutical chains CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart over the way they distributed opioids to their communities.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said in his ruling that the money will be used to fight the opioid crisis in Lake and Trumbull counties outside Cleveland.
Attorneys for the counties put the total price tag at $3.3 billion for the damage done to their communities by the three chains.
It marks the first time pharmacy companies completed a trial to defend the self in a drug crisis that killed half a million Americans since 1999.
The judge firmly reprimanded the three companies, saying they “squandered the opportunity to present a meaningful plan to abate the nuisance” after proceedings last spring to determine what the counties were owed.
Lake County will receive $306 million over 15 years, and Trumbull county will receive a similar amount of $344 million also over the same period of time.
Judge Polster ordered the three massive companies to immediately pay out nearly $87 million in order to cover the first two years of payment.
In November 2021, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the counties after hearing a six-week-long trial. The judge determined how much the counties were to receive. The counties proved to the jury that the pharmacies played an outsized role in creating a public nuisance in the way they dispensed pain medication to their communities.
The decision on how much to pay in damages came on the same day that attorneys general from numerous states announced they made an agreement with opioid maker Endo International to pay as much as $450 million over a decade of time. The payments settle allegations the company used deceptive marketing practices “that downplayed the risk of addiction and overstated the benefits” of opioids.
Defense teams for CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart insisted they had policies to stem the flow of pills when pharmacists voiced concerns and said they would notify authorities about suspicious orders from doctors. They also placed the blame on doctors, saying they controlled how many pills were prescribed for medical needs, not pharmacies.