- In another legal effort to get money to fight the opioid crisis, Erie County is suing five drugstore chains in the Erie County Court of Common Pleas
- The county reached a settlement in a previous case against pharmaceutical distributors and a drugmaker
- New lawsuit includes allegations of unjust enrichment, negligence, creating a public nuisance
After suing four pharmaceutical distributors and a drugmaker over the opioid crisis, Erie County is suing five drugstore chains, claiming they fueled the epidemic by negligently saturating the local market with painkillers on order despite warning signs of suspicious orders.
The county is suing “to hold accountable drugstore chains that provided excess opioids in Erie County,” according to the lawsuit, which focuses on data from 2006 through 2014. “The drugstore chains did not monitored and restricted the inappropriate sale and distribution of opioids and failed to reduce the opioid epidemic in Erie County.”
Citing federal data, the suit says 103,169,505 doses of the opioids hydrocodone and oxycodone were prescribed in Erie County in 2006-2014. That equates to “379 doses for every man, woman and child in the county,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also states that:
● “2012 marked the peak of opioid prescriptions dispensed in Erie County with 101 prescriptions dispensed per 100 Erie County residents. This translates to more than 284,000 opioid prescriptions dispensed in Erie County that year.
● “Between 2012 and the most recent figures for 2021, 653 overdose deaths occurred in Erie County. More than 21% of overdose deaths between 2015 and 2020 involved a prescription drug (oxycodone, alprazolam, methadone, clonazepam and hydrocodone).”
The lawsuit names CVS, Giant Eagle, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart as defendants. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment and will have the opportunity to respond to claims in court.
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Pharmacy chains, according to the lawsuit, have failed to implement effective policies to prevent the diversion of opioids and the creation of a black market in painkillers. The chains, according to the lawsuit, “also failed to respond effectively to concerns raised by their own employees about inadequate policies and procedures regarding the filling of opioid prescriptions.”
He also claims that the drugstore chains did not “use the data they had to identify suspicious orders, suspicious prescriptions and to prevent or reduce the risk of diversion”.
“This case,” according to the lawsuit, “results from the worst man-made epidemic in modern American medical history – an epidemic of addiction, overdose and death caused by the flooding of the United States by the defendants, including the plaintiff’s community, with prescription opioids.”
Erie County opioid suit similar to other counties
The 236-page lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Erie County Court of Common Pleas, alleges negligence and unjust enrichment and claims the defendants’ actions created a public nuisance and violated Pennsylvania’s unfair business practices. and consumer protection law.
The case is similar to a lawsuit that led to a $650 million judgment following a jury verdict against CVS, Walgreens and Walmart in federal court in Cleveland in November. The plaintiffs in that case were Lake and Trumbull counties, both outside of Cleveland. Two other defendants – Rite Aid and Giant Eagle – settled with counties before trial.
This case represented the first national lawsuit against national broadcasters over the opioid crisis. After the verdict, the judge held another hearing to determine damages and awarded the $650 million in August.
The Erie County lawsuit is also similar to a case filed by Allegheny County against CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens in July.
In federal litigation in Ohio, Trumbull and Lake counties are to use the $650 million in damages to fight the opioid crisis. In the Erie County case, the suit seeks compensation for similar purposes, saying the opioid crisis has caused the county to incur “special program expenses in addition to its regular municipal services.”
In the Ohio case, Walmart said it would appeal.
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“Plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart for deep pockets, and this judgment follows a lawsuit that was designed to favor plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual errors,” Walmart said in a statement. a statement in response to the award.
“Instead of tackling the real causes of the opioid crisis, like pill mill doctors, illegal drugs, and sleepy regulators at the switch, plaintiffs’ attorneys erroneously claimed that pharmacists had to guess the doctors in ways the law never intended and many federal and state health regulators say it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.”
Erie County, DA receiving settlement funds in other opioid cases
The county’s lawsuit against pharmacies comes as it began receiving payments in another high-profile case related to the opioid epidemic. The county was part of a settlement involving multi-state lawsuits against three major pharmaceutical distributors — Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — as well as opioid maker Johnson & Johnson.
The county received $673,818 in September, the first of 17 payments the county will receive on an annual basis through 2039. The county is expected to receive a total of nearly $16 million from the settlement. The money must go to opioid prevention, treatment, or one of the many remedial uses of opioids.
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The settlement resolves the nearly 4,000 lawsuits brought by state and local governments against the companies over what the plaintiffs claimed was the companies’ role in perpetuating the opioid crisis. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in January that all 67 counties in the state, including 241 local governments with 10,000 or more residents, signed on to the deal, meaning the state would get its payout. maximum of $1.07 billion.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office was involved in a separate lawsuit against the same drug companies. This office is to receive approximately $1.8 million through 2039, with an initial payment of $217,805. The money is used to fund prevention, education and reduction programs related to the opioid crisis.
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Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper pushed to join the county’s lawsuit against drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson when she was in office in 2017.
Three years later, the administration of Erie County Executive Brenton Davis is pursuing the lawsuit against the chain pharmacies. Attorneys representing the county in the lawsuit include William Speros, the county attorney; and attorneys with firms in Pittsburgh, West Virginia and South Carolina, according to court records.
Speros was not immediately available for comment.
Erie County lawsuit connects more than pharmacies in opioid crisis
Although the new Erie County lawsuit only names pharmacies as defendants, the case ties pharmacies to drugmakers and distributors, claiming they are all responsible for the opioid crisis.
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“Most Americans today have been affected, directly or indirectly, by the opioid epidemic,” according to the lawsuit. “This crisis has arisen not only from the deliberate marketing strategy of opioid manufacturers, but also from the equally deliberate efforts of distributors and pharmacies to evade restrictions on the distribution and dispensing of opioids, while helping to spread the false marketing messages from manufacturers about prescription opioids and encouraging their widespread use.
“These distributors and pharmacies acted without regard to the fact that they would be hindered in the pursuit of profit.”
The lawsuit also states, “The drugstore chains were, or should have been, fully aware that the amount of opioids they were dispensing and dispensing was unsustainable and, in many areas, blatantly absurd. But they did not take meaningful steps to investigate or to ensure that they were complying with their duties and obligations under the law in relation to controlled substances.”