A federal jury in Cleveland on Tuesday concluded that three retail pharmacy chains – Walmart, CVS and Walgreens – recklessly distributed massive amounts of opioids, according to AP, which adds that the verdict could ‘set the tone’ for future lawsuits brought by county governments that want to hold pharmacies accountable for their part in the opioid crisis.

The verdict supports claims by northeast Ohio’s Trumbull and Lake Counties, which claimed that the pharmacy chains failed to institute legally mandated monitoring to screen for potentially illegitimate opioid prescriptions. The counties are seeking billions of dollars in compensation to reimburse expenses related to dealing with addiction and overdoses in their communities.

The counties blamed pharmacies operated by CVS, Walgreens and Walmart for not stopping the flood of pills that caused hundreds of overdose deaths and cost each of the two counties about $1 billion, their attorney said.

This was the first time pharmacy companies had completed a trial to defend themselves in a drug crisis that has killed a half-million Americans over the past two decades. -AP

During the trial, the pharmacies failed to convince the jury that they didn’t create a so-called “public nuisance” through lax oversight of prescriptions issued by licensed doctors. They also argued that their systems were designed to help pharmacists spot red flags – with CVS lawyer Eric Delinsky saying in final arguments that “The core job of pharmacist is to insure patients get the medications their docs say they need,” adding that “their other obligation” is to flag illegitimate prescriptions for painkillers.

Ultimately the jury found the counties’ arguments more convincing.

Mark Lanier, the counties’ lead lawyer, used props such as baking sifters and a toy bridge constructed out of Legos during his closing argument. The sifter showed how the companies failed to properly filter opioid prescriptions while the bridge illustrated the connection between previous illegitimate prescriptions and current abuses. -Bloomberg

Not one of these pharmacies are charities. They are all for-profit entities. They make money off every pill they sell,” said Lanier. “Not one of these pharmacies are charities. They are all for-profit entities. They make money off every pill they sell.”

Stocks in Walmart and Walgreens were off sharply on the verdict.

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