Strong opioids offer worse pain relief benefits
Illustrative image. Image Credit: Pixabay

New York: A federal judge ordered Walmart, Walgreens and CVS on Wednesday to pay $650.6 million to two Ohio counties plagued by the US opioid crisis.

The penalties will account for the companies’ “roles in failing to control the spread of deadly and addictive prescription opioids,” said plaintiffs’ lawyers at the Lanier Law Firm.

“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.”

More than 500 opioid overdose deaths in the two counties between 2015 and 2019 “could be directly or indirectly linked” to prescription opioids or prescription painkillers, the Lanier firm said, citing testimony presented during the litigation.

The order from US District Judge Dan Polster follows a November 2021 jury verdict against the same companies that found the three acted illegally in creating an “oversupply” of the drugs.

The case had been the first instance in which distributors of the addictive painkillers — rather than manufacturers — were found liable for the health crisis that has claimed more than 500,000 lives in the United States over the last two decades.

Walmart said Wednesday it will appeal the penalty.

“Instead of addressing the real causes of the opioid crisis, like pill mill doctors, illegal drugs and regulators asleep at the switch, plaintiffs’ lawyers wrongly claimed that pharmacists must second-guess doctors in a way the law never intended and many federal and state health regulators say interferes with the doctor-patient relationship,” Walmart said.

Pharmacy chains Rite Aid and Giant Eagle had earlier agreed to settlements with Lake and Trumbull counties.