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Pharmacies open opioid defense

Walmart lawyer: ‘Looking for blame in the wrong places’ by Serenah McKay | October 6, 2021 at 2:10 a.m.
Attorneys and staff associated with a federal trial of pharmacies, CVS, Walgreens, Giant Eagle and Walmart, leave the Carl B. Stokes Federal Courthouse in Cleveland, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. The pharmacies are being sued by Ohio counties Lake and Trumbull for their part in the opioid crisis. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Attorneys for Walmart Inc. and two other major pharmacy chains delivered opening statements Tuesday in a federal trial to determine whether the pharmacies' opioid sales practices contributed to the U.S. opioid crisis.

Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS Health Corp. and Giant Eagle Inc. are named along with Walmart as defendants in the trial. The case is being heard in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

John Majoras, an attorney with the law firm Jones Day, argued on behalf of Walmart on Tuesday that, first of all, of the four pharmacies, Walmart has only a small presence in the two Ohio counties, Lake and Trumbull, that brought the suit.

Of more than 300 licensed dispensers in the county, Majoras said, Walmart has five. Further, each opioid prescription Walmart fills is written by a doctor licensed by the Drug Enforcement Agency, he said.

Majoras said that it's not the pharmacists' job to set social policy, change a doctor's treatment plan or serve as law enforcement. "The plaintiffs are looking for blame in the wrong places," he said.

Pharmacists need "to understand how to do their job so that they can exercise their professional judgment about, 'is this something that looks like a legitimate medical need for this person?'" Majoras said.

He told the jurors, "You'll hear that the management of Walmart, the senior management of Walmart, consistently advises its pharmacies and pharmacists, trains its pharmacists, that if you make a decision that you're not going to fill a prescription, we've got your back."

Lawyers for CVS and Giant Eagle lawyers also said the companies are not to blame for the nation's opioid crisis and its pharmacists fill prescriptions written by doctors for legitimate medical needs, according to The Associated Press.

Walgreens' attorneys made their opening statements Monday after lawyers representing the plaintiffs, Lake and Trumbull counties of Ohio, made their opening remarks.

Mark Lanier, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the jury Monday that the defendants failed to give their pharmacists protocols for flagging and reporting suspicious prescriptions. He also said the companies failed to monitor and report unusually frequent delivery of the drugs to stores.

This is the first trial that retail pharmacy chains have faced in the more than 3,000 lawsuits that cities and counties nationwide have filed against opioid manufacturers, distributors and dispensers.

The plaintiffs in these suits hope to recoup some of the money the opioid epidemic has cost them for hospitalizations and drug treatment programs. The two Ohio counties claim the actions of the four pharmacy chains have cost them each $1 billion.

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