A federal jury in Ohio has found that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart must take responsibility for the opioid epidemic that has plagued Lake and Trumbull counties in the state. The decision could have a far-reaching impact as many similar suits are expected to follow.

Attorneys representing the two counties argued that the retailers failed to take action to stop the flow of opioids in their communities and therefore enabled the crisis to spread. Each country incurred about $1 billion in expenses as they responded to the growing crisis with law enforcement and social service resources.

The retailers argued that other parties, such as the physicians who prescribed the pain meds and pharmaceutical companies, were the ones most responsible for the widespread availability of opioids.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Trumbull County took in shipments of more than 80 million opioid pills from 2006 to 2012. The county’s population is below 200,000. Lake County, which has a population of about 230,000, received 60 million opioid pills during the same period.

Two other retailers — Giant Eagle and Rite Aid — settled with the counties before the case went to court. Details of the settlements have not been revealed.

“Today’s verdict means a lot to Lake County, because it is a substantive step forward to real healing in this epidemic,” Lake County Commissioner John Plecnik told CNN.

“This verdict will also mean greater resources to combat opioid addiction, which are desperately needed,” Mr. Plecnik said. “I can’t say this strongly enough, no one is immune to the impact of addiction and opioid abuse, and this is not just a victory for Lake and Trumbull, it is a victory for all Americans.”

Dates for the damage phase of the case have not yet been determined.

The three retailers plan to file an appeal to the verdict.

“Plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart in search of deep pockets while ignoring the real causes of the opioid crisis — such as pill mill doctors, illegal drugs and regulators asleep at the switch — and they wrongly claimed pharmacists must second-guess doctors in a way the law never intended and many federal and state health regulators say interferes with the doctor-patient relationship,” the retailer said in a statement.


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