The retailers are accused of violating laws that require pharmacies to alert the DEA of suspicious drug orders.
Supermarkets and large chain drugstores such as Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens are the subjects of a massive national lawsuit seeking restitution for the harm caused by the U.S. opioid epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people in less than 20 years.
Cities, counties, and Native American tribes across the country have combined nearly 2,000 cases into what is to be the largest civil case in U.S. history. The trial is set to take place this October.
Plaintiffs will seek billions of dollars in damages from the companies, each of which is accused of violating laws that require pharmacies to alert the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of suspicious drug orders.
One such case accused Walgreens of failing to act on a flagged email in 2011 containing an order of 3,271 bottles of the opioid, oxycodone, for a town in Florida with a population of 2,831 people.
Walmart has additionally been accused of failing to properly train its pharmacy employees or “enacting policy to monitor suspicious orders” before 2011 despite the fact that the opioid epidemic was already raging and warnings had been issued about the role of prescription drugs in the crisis.
All of these alleged failures have resulted in the additional charge of creating a “public nuisance” as part of a system that created and/or fed the opioid crisis.
According to The New York Times, these companies’ actions worsened a situation “that affects the far reaches of public health, including neonatal intensive care, foster care, emergency services, detox and rehabilitation programs and the criminal justice system.”
Earlier this month, the trial of Johnson & Johson came to a close in Oklahoma. The company and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, was the sole defendant in the lawsuit filed by the state of Oklahoma. Prior to the trial, the state reached settlements with two other defendants named in its lawsuit: Purdue Pharma (for $270 million) and Teva Pharmaceuticals (for $85 million).
During the seven-week trial, state attorneys argued that Johnson & Johnson created a “public nuisance” by causing harm to the public including injury to public health. A ruling is expected in August.
The Retailers’ Response
The stores listed in this most recent lawsuit have all denied wrongdoing, with Walmart claiming that the chain “distributed less than 1.3% of the opioids” that were sent to the counties named in the suit and Walgreens claiming that it “has been an industry leader in combating this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work,” according to statements provided to Vox.
Purdue Pharma and other manufacturers also denied wrongdoing all the way up to reaching a settlement, but ultimately decided that the $270 million bill was worth avoiding a trial.