LAKE COUNTY, Ohio — On Tuesday, a federal jury in Cleveland made history by finding three of the nation’s largest pharmacies liable for perpetuating the opioid epidemic in two northeast Ohio counties.
The jury decided CVS, Walgreens and Walmart created a public nuisance in Lake and Trumbull Counties.
It’s a landmark decision that attorneys for the plaintiff said will be talked about in boardrooms and corner offices at every company that is alleged to have played a role in the opioid epidemic.
It could be a glimpse into future decisions from jurors in other courtrooms throughout the country.
“This is the first time that a jury has spoken that these three defendants, these pharmacy chains, are responsible for creating that public nuisance,” said Marc Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm.
It’s the first time an opioid epidemic-related trial, featuring large pharmacy companies, actually went to trial.
”The jury today really gave a voice to the families who have been victimized by the epidemic in our community. Truly, in Lake county, we do not have a corner of the county that has not been impacted by this epidemic,” Kim Fraser said. Fraser is the executive director at Lake County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services.”
Robert Brandt is one of the tens of thousands of northeast Ohio parents who has lost a child to opioid addiction.
His son Robby’s addiction began in 2007.
“The struggle started his sophomore year in high school,” he said. “He had his wisdom teeth out and that was his first exposure to pain medication.”
A doctor sent Robby home with a prescription to Percocet.
“From there it was just the prototypical pattern of addiction where I want to do it again, and the brain chemistry changed, and he was caught,” said Brandt.
In 2011, Robby’s addiction to pain pills turned into a heroin addiction. Robby died of an overdose shortly after he turned to heroin. He was just 20 years old.
His family started Robby’s Voice to raise awareness and arm parents and communities with information to identify the warning signs of substance abuse.
Brandt said the news of the federal jury’s verdict feels like a small win but doesn’t call it justice.
“People up and down the supply chain made conscious decisions to do this for profit and people died,” said Brandt. “We’re holding corporations accountable. It’s money. We are not holding the people that made these decisions accountable for their decisions. So, when people talk about justice and then you look at the settlement, ok well, what’s a life worth?”
He said justice would be jail time.
“Their jobs were to monitor the information and control the flow of those medications, that was their job, that was the law and they chose not to do that,” he said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they will be seeking damages in excess of 1 billion dollars for each county, stating that the money will go toward fighting the epidemic in the community.
“These communities already have programs in place that are ready to be funded. Both counties are thoroughly on top of this and have been hopeful in anticipating that there may be an opportunity to do more than they’ve been able to do with the economic handcuffs that they have had so far,” said Lanier.
Brandt is pleased to hear that the money will go towards programs to fight the problem, but hopes it sends a message to pharmacies that an epidemic like this can never happen again.
“That’s my concern, is that we just make the same mistake over and over again,” said Brandt.
CVS, Walgreens and Walmart criticized the jury’s decision and said they plan to appeal it.