(WKBN) – A landmark decision came on Tuesday in the fight against the opioid crisis. A federal jury found three of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains liable for their role in flooding both Lake and Trumbull counties with pills.
On Tuesday, we heard from both the winning legal team and the executive director of Trumbull County’s Mental Health and Recovery Board about what this decision means and where the fight goes from here.
“In Northeastern Ohio, a jury has just found that by unanimous decision that Walmart, Walgreens and CVS pharmacies from their national headquarter perspective significantly contributed to the public nuisance that is the opioid epidemic,” said Mark Lanier, lead trial lawyer.
After seven weeks of testimony and five and a half days of jury deliberation, those were the first words in a Zoom press conference after the verdict was read Tuesday afternoon.
“This verdict gives voice to those individuals and those families who’ve been so traumatized,” said Kim Fraser, with the Lake County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Board.
“I think the verdict today really is vindication for what we all know, that the opiates that were poured into our communities really caused this crisis,” said April Caraway, with the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
From 2012 to 2016, around 80 million pills were dispensed in Trumbull County alone, which is equivalent to 400 per resident.
Now, both Lake and Trumbull counties are seeking roughly $1 billion in damages each. That money will go into not only helping those who are already dealing with addiction but preventing further cases.
“Doing more prevention work and really educating the community on the harms, those are a couple of things that we want to do with whatever we get,” Caraway said.
But the war isn’t won. A spokesperson for CVS called the lawsuit and the precedent being set misguided and unsustainable. CVS and Walgreens already said they plan to appeal.
“I’d love to say that the money will be dispersed and the problem will be abated and we will see thriving communities overnight, but regrettably that won’t be the case,” Lanier said.
Should the case go all the way to the Supreme Court, seeing a final decision and the money to help could take years.
For now, the next phase will begin in the spring, where the attorneys for the counties will present to the court all the resources needed to do away with the epidemic, and a judge will decide how much the counties should get.