Retail companies Walmart, Walgreens and CVS were ordered yesterday by a judge in Ohio (northern US) to pay a total of $650.6 million in fines to two counties in the state for their role in the opioid crisis.
“A federal judge ordered (the three companies) to pay $650.6 million” in total to Lake and Trumbull counties, Ohio, said the Lanier Law Firm, which represented the two counties.
The amount will allow “training and prevention programs to be financed and services and organizations to be reimbursed for the costs they incurred in managing the crisis,” he explained.
Walmart announced in a publicized press release that it intends to appeal the decision, which it says is “plagued by procedural and factual errors.”
The three US retail giants who bulked up painkillers in the two counties were found guilty in November.
Attorneys for the two Ohio counties succeeded in convincing jurors that the massive presence of opioids on their shelves actually harmed the public interest and that those stores contributed to the crisis by defying warnings about suspicious prescriptions for years.
The counties “simply want to be compensated for the burden of the drug epidemic that was supported by corporate greed, negligence and irresponsibility” of their pharmacies, County Attorney Mark Lanier said, according to a statement from his office.
The retail companies counter that their pharmacies were merely filling legal prescriptions, approved by doctors, that recommended the administration of substances approved by health authorities.
Some parties struck deals with Lake and Trumbull counties to drop lawsuits against them in exchange for paying restitution. This was the case with drugstore chains Rite Aid and Giant Eagle.
It is the first time that drug retailers, rather than the industries that produced them, have been held responsible for this health crisis, which is responsible for more than 500,000 drug or drug overdose deaths in the US. For this crisis, a myriad of lawsuits and criminal prosecutions have been filed by various institutions and collectives.
Condemning opioid industries under public interest law suffered setbacks in California and Oklahoma, however.
Last year, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart agreed to pay a total of $26 million in two New York state counties.