NEW YORK — With the opioid crisis in the United States appearing to only worsen, many are looking not only for answers but for justice, as lawsuits are popping up across the nation.
In Ohio, one of the states hit hardest by the epidemic, some major national drug store chains are suing physicians in two counties claiming they are responsible for the crisis by excessively prescribing these highly addictive drugs.
The pharmacies, which include such big names as Walgreens, CVS Health, Walmart and Rite Aid Corp., stated in a court filing that doctors should be held accountable, as they are the ones that wrote the prescriptions.
The suit filed by the pharmacies are actually a countersuit against the physicians as the pharmacies are facing their own lawsuit from Summit and Cuyahoga counties. In that suit, the counties are not suing the doctors in question. In the complaint filed by the drug chains, however, the companies stated that if they are found liable for the opioid epidemic, the doctors ought to be as well.
Attorneys representing the pharmacies argue in their defense that “while pharmacists are highly trained and licensed professionals … they do not write prescriptions.”
The attorneys also highlighted that the complaint against the pharmacies “fails to identify even one prescription that was supposedly filled improperly by any pharmacist working for any of the Summit County Pharmacy Chains. Not one.”
The pharmacies also noted that the counties did not sue independent drug stores, “pill mills,” internet pharmacies and “unscrupulous pain clinics,” even though they provided more than 40% of the opioids dispensed in Cuyahoga County and more than 60% of the opioids dispensed in Summit County.
“In a misguided hunt for deep pockets without regard to actual fault or legal liability, Plaintiff has elected not to sue any of these other parties,” states the complaint on behalf of the pharmacy chains.
Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said the lawsuit “is required to respond to the unsubstantiated allegations by Plaintiffs that pharmacists should not have filled prescriptions, written by doctors, for FDA-approved opioid medications.”
Caruso added that the company believes “that the overwhelming majority of prescriptions dispensed were properly prescribed by doctors to meet the legitimate needs of their patients.”
The federal trial involves more than 2,000 cases brought by counties, cities and tribes against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies. They have all been consolidated into a massive multidistrict litigation lawsuit in Cleveland as a test of how the plaintiffs’ arguments will fare. The judge has been urging all parties to settle.
The lawsuits are seeking financial compensation for the consequences of the opioid epidemic, which has claimed more than 200,000 lives since 1999.
Last year, multiple manufacturers and distributors either settled or were ordered to pay restitution in various verdicts.
The initial federal trial against six drug distributors and manufacturers ended last October when the final industry defendants agreed to an 11th-hour settlement. In that trial, the attorneys for the initial plaintiffs stated that multiple parties have contributed to the opioid epidemic.
“However, we have demonstrated and will continue to show that the origins of the opioid crisis and the fuel that spread the epidemic can be traced back to the behavior and practices of corporations in the drug supply chain. Without widespread wrongdoing by the opioid industry — including pharmacies — we would not be in the place we are today,” the attorneys stated.
“Pharmacies saw the devastating consequences of this public health crisis firsthand, and we will show they did little to nothing to address them,” they said.