CLEVELAND – Three retail pharmacy chains failed to follow government guidelines to make sure pain pills weren’t flooding Ohio communities, said an attorney for two counties that brought a federal lawsuit to hold the companies accountable for the opioid crisis.
Attorneys for the pharmacies — CVS, Walgreens and Walmart — said that they had safeguards in place and that their employees would look for signs of suspicious orders. The counties failed to show that the pharmacies had a substantial role in the crisis, the attorneys said Monday during closing arguments in U.S. District Court.
While the lawsuit involves just two counties, it is being closely watched because it could set the tone for U.S. city and county governments that want to hold pharmacies accountable for their roles in a crisis that has killed more than 500,000 people over the past two decades.
Two other chains -- Rite Aid and Giant Eagle -- already have settled lawsuits with the two Ohio counties.
Attorney Mark Lanier, who represents the counties in the lawsuit, said the companies put profit over public safety. “You can’t just point a finger at everyone else,” he said.
The pharmacies were the last line of defense to stop the opioid abuse and missed many warning signs, Lanier said.
Attorneys for the pharmacies told jurors that no law enforcement officials or government regulators testified during the trial that the companies broke any laws or were to blame.
“Not one witness on the ground came and testified, ‘I saw CVS, I saw Walgreens, I saw Walmart do this,’ ” said Eric Delinsky, an attorney for CVS.
Walgreens attorney Brian Swanson said that the companies followed proper procedures and that many others were responsible for the crisis, including the Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration.
Each of the counties in northeast Ohio say the crisis has cost them about $1 billion as it has overwhelmed courts, social services agencies and law enforcement.
Roughly 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016 — equivalent to 400 for every resident.
In Lake County, some 61 million pills were distributed during that period.