CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart helped fuel the U.S. opioid crisis - Did the court make the right decision?

Luay Rahil

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A Cleveland jury concluded CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart didn't do enough to keep their customers safe from these highly addictive pain pills in two Ohio counties.

Lake and Trumbull counties claimed that these drugstores should have done more to stop the flood of pills that caused hundreds of overdose deaths and failed to create legally required monitoring systems to identify illegal opioid prescriptions.

According to Newsmax, " Roughly 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016 — equivalent to 400 for every resident, and 61 million pills were sold in Lake County." Some of these medications were initially sold legally but ended up on the black market.

The counties are asking billions of dollars in compensation for the damages of dealing with addictions and deadly overdoses.

Who controls how many pills patients get?

These companies' lawyers say, "Doctors who controlled how many pills were being prescribed for legitimate medical needs, and not pharmacies" Kenneth White works in the healthcare industry and agrees with these lawyers. However, he says he doesn't believe that juries are qualified to judge in cases like this.

I have a problem with Juries being the trier of fact in cases like this. Its simply too much to ask. A jury in Ohio has held that multiple retail pharmacies were responsible for the opioid crisis. While in specific cases where the pharmacy should have questioned the number of pills doctors were ordering for a specific patient, to hold that these retail outlets had a duty to prevent what the doctors/patients were doing and to second guess those scripts as a matter of generality is simply going to far. We can hope an appellate court holds the same.

All these companies deny any wrongdoing, and they will appeal the verdict.

Pharmacies are making a serious legal argument.

Walmart said in a statement that they will appeal this flawed decision, "Plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart in search of deep pockets while ignoring the real causes of the opioid crisis—such as pill mill doctors, illegal drugs, and regulators asleep at the switch—and they wrongly claimed 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."

CVS disagrees with the decision, "We strongly disagree with the decision. Pharmacists fill legal prescriptions written by DEA-licensed doctors who prescribe legal, FDA-approved substances to treat actual patients in need." They are making the same point that Walmart is making that opioid prescriptions e written by doctors and not pharmacies.

Fraser Engerman, who works for Walgreens, said, "The facts and law do not support the verdict."

As you see, these three pharmacies didn't admit any wrongdoing, so it will be interesting how this case will proceed in court.

Do people have any responsibility?

I have talked to a few people who work in the law enforcement and health care industry. One of them made this point to me, "It seems that we are living in a land of no personal responsibility. It seems that our legal system runs on the assumption that it is always someone else's mistake. It is like doctors had no choice but to prescribe these medications, and people had no option but to abuse them, so it's the pharmacy's fault."

Mark Haskins, who works at USDA, says, "The notion that pharmaceutical manufacturers tricked doctors into writing way too many pills" is simply mind-numbing. So what we're telling people is that the best, the brightest, some of the smartest people in the country were dumb enough to do what a pharmacy sales rep told them to do? These doctors have training on what controlled substances do, they knew."

Do you think the Clevland jury made the right decision?

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Luay Rahil, MBA. writes about business, leadership, and various other work-related issues. He found Lead with Integrity group that has 5200 members to help people work smarter and lead better.

Fort Worth, TX
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