Pharmacy operators Walmart, Walgreens, Kroger begin opioid trials in New Mexico

Pharmacy operators Walmart, Walgreens, Kroger begin opioid trials in New Mexico

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Sep 6 (Reuters) – U.S. pharmacy operators Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA.O)Walmart Inc. (WMT.N) and Kroger Co. (CR.N) faced the state of New Mexico on Tuesday in the latest lawsuit over their alleged role in the U.S. opioid epidemic following recent high-profile pharmacy losses in other lawsuits.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, in his opening statement, said pharmacies were to act as a “dam” against the flood of illegal opioid prescriptions, refusing to fill prescriptions with “red flags” that signal abuse.

“I believe the defendants had a legal duty to contain the flooding and protect the people of New Mexico from harm,” he told Judge Francis Mathew, who presides over the non-jury trial in New Mexico’s 1st Judicial District in Santa Fe. .

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Dan Alberstone, another state lawyer, said that between 2006 and 2019, three companies dispensed more than 550 million opioid pills in New Mexico—more than 263 for every person in the state.

John Majors, a Walmart lawyer who delivered opening statements in defense of all three companies, countered that pharmacists should use their “professional judgment” rather than rely on “the mechanical application of red flags.”

He said the state could not prove that pharmacists “knowingly” wrote any illegal prescriptions.

Reuters monitored the opening statements via a courtroom viewing network.

The US opioid epidemic has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths in two decades, according to government figures. More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed, mostly by local authorities, accusing drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains of fueling the crisis.

Major drug manufacturers and distributors collectively agreed to pay billions of dollars to settle opioid cases against them, but pharmacies persevered. read more

Only two cases against pharmacies were brought to a verdict.

One, initiated by two Ohio counties, resulted in a jury verdict against Walgreens, Walmart and CVS Health Corp. (CVS.N) last year and a judgment of more than $650 million last month. read more

Another case filed by San Francisco against Walgreens resulted in a judge holding the company liable last month, though no judgment has yet been issued in the case.

Walgreens and CVS also settled the Florida lawsuit for $683 million and $484 million, respectively. read more

New Mexico sued pharmacies in 2017, accusing them of causing public inconvenience by not stopping opioids from entering illegal channels. The state is trying to force pharmacies to pay for addiction programs to reduce this nuisance.

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Reporting by Brendan Pearson in New York, editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Burcroth

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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