CVS Executive Defends Pharmacy Chain’s Handling of Opioid Drugs
(Bloomberg) -- A CVS Health Corp. executive acknowledged in court that some of the company’s U.S. pharmacies filled illegitimate opioid prescriptions for almost a decade, but he denied any widespread failure to monitor sales of the addictive painkillers.
Tom Davis, who oversees safety issues for CVS, told jurors Tuesday in federal court in Cleveland that while the pharmacy chain had settled multiple state and federal probes over opioids between 2008 and 2016, those cases were outliers.
The Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based company “operates 10,000 stores around the U.S. and I don’t believe there are any systemic problems” related to monitoring opioid prescriptions in most of those outlets, Davis said.
CVS, Walmart Inc., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and supermarket chain Giant Eagle are accused of helping to create a U.S. public-health crisis. The federal trial that began this week over claims by two Ohio counties is the first of thousands of lawsuits by states and local governments, which could lead to billions of dollars in damages if juries conclude the pharmacies helped to fuel the opioid crisis.
Trumbull and Lake counties claim the companies helped spawn a public nuisance by failing to properly oversee opioid prescriptions and patients’ drug-use habits. That forced communities to spend taxpayer money to cope with addictions and fatal overdoses. Similar suits are pending against drug makers and distributors.
Pharmacy providers counter that they’ve developed robust opioid-monitoring systems and helped pharmacists weed out shady prescriptions. They also point to illegal activities of so-called pill-mill doctors and addicts as part of the problem.
“I wish I could wave a magic wand to give our pharmacists the ability to know when a criminal walks into the store,” Davis told jurors. “I don’t.”
First of Many
The Cleveland case is the first trial of more than 4,000 opioid suits consolidated before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who has overseen the litigation since 2018. He’s pushed Walmart and other chains to settle all opioid claims.
Earlier Tuesday, John Majoras, one of Walmart’s lawyers, told jurors in his opening statement that the world’s largest retailer had only five stores in the two counties and was a minor provider of pharmacy services. Despite its minor role in the area, the chain has “continually improved its monitoring processes” for opioid prescriptions, he said.
Diane Sullivan, Giant Eagle’s attorney, told jurors the five-state grocery chain didn’t produce or market opioids, but instead filled prescriptions issued by licensed doctors. “We shouldn’t be lumped in” with the larger pharmacy providers, she said.
The consolidated case before Polster is In Re National Prescription Opioid Litigation, 17-md-2804, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio (Cleveland).
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