America’s three largest pharmacy chains ordered to pay $650.5m for helping fuel opioid crisis

America’s top three pharmacy chains have been ordered to cough up $650.5m to Ohio counties Lake and Trumbull for fuelling the opioid epidemic after oversupplying the drug.

CVS, Walmart and Walgreens will have to pay a third of the amount needed by the two Ohio counties to combat the damage caused by the drug epidemic, according to a ruling on Wednesday by federal judge Dan Polster in Cleveland.

The judge added that two other groups in the pharmaceutical chain – drug manufacturers and drug distributors – should also be held responsible.

In November, the federal court had ruled that the three pharmacy giants helped dispense addictive opioid pills that led to an oversupply of the drugs and public nuisance over the years even as it was reported that the pills were being used for drug abuse.

Many of the drugs in circulation found their way to the black market and were also sold illegally.

The judge said the fine imposed on the companies will have to be paid over the next 15 years and fixed an $86.7m amount to be paid to a fund immediately in the first two years.

These firms will also have to implement new procedures to fight the illegal diversion of the opioid drugs, the judge ordered.

CVS and Walmart have not immediately reacted to the legal ruling.

Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman said the judge’s analysis was flawed and the companies are disappointed with the outcome.

He added that the companies never manufactured or marketed opioids nor “did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis”.

“The facts and the law did not support the jury verdict last fall, and they do not support the court’s decision now,” Mr Engerman said.

More than 500,000 drug overdose deaths have been reported in the US opioid epidemic in the last two decades, the government data shows.

In the last 20 years, millions of people have fallen prey to the addiction of opiate-based painkillers like fentanyl and OxyContin, data shows.

The country has seen more than 3,300 opioid legal cases mounting against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacy chains nationally.

Meanwhile, the pharmacies are yet to reach a nationwide settlement.