Ohio Supreme Court to Decide on Pharmacies’ Role in Opioid Crisis


The Ohio Supreme Court will soon rule whether huge chain pharmacies caused a public nuisance by selling legal prescription pharmaceuticals, which contributed to the opioid crisis, and can be sued and held liable for that claim.

The question of whether state law allows for this specific nuisance claim originates from a lawsuit filed by Trumbull and Lake counties over the opioid epidemic. It is one of thousands of similar cases filed against drug manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, alleging that their operations contribute to rising addiction and overdose rates across the country.

In November 2021, a federal trial judge ruled with the counties and ordered the defendants to pay $650 million in abatement remedies. That money would be used for addiction treatment, emergency services training, and other purposes.

Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, and Walmart are among the defendants in the case, which was currently pending before the federal appeals court. But they are asking a technical question about the Ohio Revised Code.

The seven justices of the Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning.

Attorney Jeffrey Wall argued on behalf of the pharmacies that the lawsuit should focus on product responsibility rather than public nuisance. On the other hand, Wall remarked, “You can sue gun manufacturers for the public nuisance of violence, energy companies for climate change, fast food, lead paint, and all the rest.”

The Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute defines a public nuisance as “any conduct that interferes with the rights of the public,” such as autos in the right-of-way, loud noises, or bright lights.

However, attorney David Frederick, on behalf of the counties, claims that opioids and how they are given are distinct, posing significant issues. “We’re in such unusual territory,” Frederick informed the justices.

According to the New York Times, judges in other states, including California and Oklahoma, have dismissed the public nuisance claim in comparable instances.

The Ohio Supreme Court issues decisions three to six months after a case is heard. The federal appeals process will not proceed until then.

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