Listen well before making spending plan
After weeks of testimony in a Cleveland federal courtroom, followed by days of deliberations, a U.S. District Court jury last week agreed with plaintiffs, including Trumbull County, that some local pharmacies played a role in fanning the opioid epidemic.
The jury determined that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies recklessly distributed incredibly large numbers of the pain pills in both Trumbull and Lake counties. Two other pharmacies initially named in the suit, Giant Eagle and Rite Aid, reached legal settlements ahead of the ruling. This was the first time pharmacy companies went to trial in an attempt to defend themselves. But the jury determined the pharmacies did, indeed, play a role in poisoning our communities.
Indeed, there are many entities to blame, but in this case, the jury determined these pharmacists should have been better gatekeepers. Approximately 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016 — equivalent to 400 for every resident. Lake County, the other plaintiff in the civil suit, saw approximately 61 million pills distributed during that period.
“The law requires pharmacies to be diligent in dealing drugs. This case should be a wake-up call that failure will not be accepted,” said Mark Lanier, an attorney representing the counties. “The jury sounded a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America.”
Of course, there will be appeals, meaning the case won’t necessarily end here. Still, it should serve as a reminder that everyone who had a hand in distribution of this enormous quantity of addictive drugs — whether it’s the pharmacists who filled the prescriptions, the drug manufacturers who created the drugs, the physicians who wrote the prescriptions, anyone who understood but did not publicize the addictive nature of the drugs or the street drug dealers who have capitalized on the addictions — shares in the responsibility of growing this epidemic.
In light of last week’s ruling, a federal judge will determine what consequences the three pharmacies will face. Most expect it to be large sums in damages.
Still, that will be little consolation for the many who have paid with their lives. For them and their families, along with all those who have suffered the horrible struggles of addiction, Trumbull County officials must ensure that any cash awards are allocated appropriately.
We believe that damages, coupled by settlement dollars from Rite-Aid or Giant Eagle, must be directed to efforts to combat the negative impact of this ongoing epidemic. We already know Rite-Aid has agreed to pay Trumbull County $1.5 million. Giant Eagle’s settlement amount has not yet been made public.
We encourage our elected county commissioners and any others involved in the allocation process to rely on guidance from experts like leadership at the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board for the in-depth knowledge and education about the opioid epidemic, addiction treatment and recovery options. Those suffering addiction and the families of those who have survived or perished from the scourge also should be consulted.
We are hopeful that the county leaders involved in allocating these funds grant opportunities for these residents to speak publicly about their experiences and offer their suggestions for how to spend the funds to help end this crisis.
And then, after listening, commissioners must put any personal or professional differences aside and work together to ensure that these funds are spent in the most appropriate way possible to help those who have suffered or lost the most.