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On August 17, a federal court in Ohio ordered CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, the three largest drugstore chains in the United States, to pay a total of $650.5 million in damages for their contribution to the opioid health crisis in the United States. It is the first time that large companies selling drugs in the country have been ordered to pay compensation for their role in the spread of opioids. In the past, smaller companies had been convicted, as well as several pharmaceutical companies that had negotiated damages or reached out-of-court settlements.
Opioids are painkillers that are highly addictive. They began to be synthesized in the early twentieth century, but their widespread use dates back to the 1990s. At that time, the American pharmaceutical company Purdue started selling oxycodone, marketed as OxyContin, and ran a very aggressive marketing campaign to convince doctors to prescribe it for their patients, claiming that it could be used to treat chronic pain become, without it coming to addiction problems.
In the United States, many physicians abused oxycodone prescriptions, and in many cases patients began taking them even beyond recommended times: both oxycodone and other opioids cause serious addiction problems and have overdose deaths in the hundreds of thousands caused by humans in the last 20 years.
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Last November, an Ohio jury found CVS, Walgreens and Walmart responsible for continuing to sell large quantities of opioid drugs while ignoring obvious signs of consumer abuse. The jury reviewed the cases of hundreds of people living in Lake and Trumbull counties who had developed severe opioid addiction.
Now a judge has ruled on the compensation that the three companies must pay to the two counties: the payment must not be made immediately but over the next 15 years and also includes funding for projects to prevent opioid drug addiction.
The judge who delivered the ruling, Dan Aaron Polster, said that “even if the court had a magic wand and could permanently eliminate an existing or future oversale of opioids and prevent these drugs from being illegally sold in the future, there was nothing they could do to curbing the plague that would continue to plague Lake and Trumbull counties,” which is widespread opioid addiction.
CVS, Walgreens and Walmart have said they will appeal the verdict, denying all allegations, arguing that drug-selling companies cannot be held responsible for the spread of opioids in the United States. According to the three companies, along with manufacturers, the main culprits in the opioid crisis are the doctors who have prescribed excessive amounts to patients.
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