Jurors on Monday found two pharmacies, and a pharmacy chain, guilty of negligence and providing large amounts of opioid medication to addicts.
CVS and Walgreens may pay as much as $200 million to reimburse the United States for the death and harm opioid overdoses caused, the jury found.
Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, lost a jury trial after a three-week trial. On Monday, a federal jury in Chicago handed the manufacturer a similarly hard-fought defeat.
For the pharmas, the verdict represents a startling admission that patients are becoming too sick to manage these powerful medications.
“Heroin and other opioid addiction are a growing public health crisis,” U.S. Attorney Adam P. Cox, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement. “Purdue Pharma repeatedly deceived the public into thinking its painkiller was not addictive and could be used as directed, when it was all too clear that these drugs were being diverted and abused.”
In December 2017, a federal judge in New Jersey issued a ruling against Purdue and named New Jersey’s Department of Health as the lead plaintiff for a proposed class action lawsuit against the drugmaker. An amended complaint had been filed on behalf of all the states, with the goal of recovering $1 billion per state.
This trial was a crucial initial hurdle, because a favorable jury verdict would have probably led to a settlement. Meanwhile, a future settlement could significantly decrease the expense of a class action lawsuit and leave millions of individuals financially better off.
The collapse of the lawsuit has huge implications for the hundreds of people identified as individuals who injured by opioids, but the justice department’s team may now find it easier to bring fraud cases against doctors and distributors as well.
On Monday, the jury heard testimony from five individuals who either became addicted to opioids or died as a result of their use of the drugs.
This included two women named Stacy McCloud and Cathy Gale, whose families attended much of the trial. Both women struggled with addiction for years before both women began using Pills for Homeward Bound, a direct competitor of Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin. One woman said her daughter ran out of money and nearly died of a heroin overdose.
“This is going to save someone’s life,” the mother told the court.
Since 2007, nearly 42,000 people have died of drug overdoses due to opioids, and not all of those deaths were necessarily due to prescription drugs. As drug overdoses continue to rise, any legal or regulatory mechanism for reducing the risk is a big win.
In 2014, sales of the narcotic hydrocodone, as the active ingredient in Vicodin, were higher than they were in 1998. This led to a federal lawsuit against big pharma, which alleges the manufacturers and distributors are responsible for the opioid crisis.