One of the four retail pharmacy companies on trial for their alleged roles in fostering an opioid crisis in two Ohio counties announced Friday it had settled lawsuits filed by 10 government entities in the state that have accused the companies of creating a public nuisance.
The settlement by Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle includes Lake and Trumbull counties, whose federal lawsuits are being heard in a bellwether trial in Cleveland that began in early October. The other defendants on trial are CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.
Settlement terms were not announced. Another pharmacy chain, Rite-Aid, settled with the two counties in August. Rite-Aid agreed to pay Trumbull County $1.5 million. The amount Lake County will receive has not been disclosed.
Giant Eagle in a joint statement with a committee representing plaintiffs in the national litigation denied causing the opioid crisis but said it recognizes the severity of the crisis, the impact on the public and the “hard work of the public officials working to address the harms.”
“Giant Eagle intends to continue helping the communities in which it operates to address the opioid crisis in a productive way,” the statement said.
In a separate statement, Lake and Trumbull County officials said they are focused on “supporting our necessary action to combat the persistent negative impacts caused by the opioid epidemic.”
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is overseeing the current trial in Cleveland and supervises nearly 3,000 opioid lawsuits filed by government agencies and tribal entities from across the country.
More than 500,000 people in the U.S. have died from drug overdoses in the last two decades.
The Cleveland trial has been focused on how the companies contributed to the opioid crisis by filling millions of prescriptions for addictive pain killers. All four companies at various times also distributed those drugs to their retail pharmacies.
Around 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County between 2012 and 2016 — 400 for every county resident — while 61 million pills were dispensed in Lake County during that five-year period — 265 pills for every resident.
The cost of abating the crisis in each county totals around $1 billion, one of the counties’ attorneys has said.
“We were hit with a tsunami and we were pulling bodies out of the water,” April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health & Recovery Board, testified earlier this week.
The counties are arguing that the companies’ lax or nonexistent controls and systems for detecting suspicious orders and prescriptions contributed to the crisis. The companies have said their pharmacies filled prescriptions written by doctors for legitimate medical needs.