Jury Finds Pharmacy Chains Contributed to Ohio’s Opioid Crisis

A federal jury in Ohio on Tuesday found that pharmacy giants Walgreens, CVS and Walmart contributed to the opioid crisis in that state, a verdict that could serve as a bellwether for thousands of similar cases pending from coast to coast. The decision is the first verdict returned by a jury that holds a pharmacy retailer responsible for its role in the devastating epidemic of opioid overdoses that has plagued the United States for decades.

In the lawsuit, Lake and Trumbell Counties in northeastern Ohio maintained that the pharmacy retailers had recklessly distributed more than 100 million opioid pain pills in the counties, leading to addiction, death and a strain on public services. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 80 million prescriptions painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone, or about 400 pills for every resident. During the same period, approximately 61 million opioid painkillers were dispensed in Lake County.

“For decades, pharmacy chains have watched as the pills flowing out of their doors cause harm and failed to take action as required by law,” a committee of attorneys representing local governments in federal opioid lawsuits said in a statement. “Instead, these companies responded by opening up more locations, flooding communities with pills, and facilitating the flow of opioids into an illegal, secondary market.”

Counties Say Pharmacies Created a Public Nuisance

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the actions of the pharmacies amounted to a public nuisance that cost the counties about $1 billion each to address. Mark Lanier, an attorney representing the counties, said that the pharmacies failed to hire or train enough employees and implement systems to prevent suspicious orders from being filled.

“The law requires pharmacies to be diligent in dealing drugs,” Lanier said. “This case should be a wake-up call that failure will not be accepted.” 

“The jury sounded a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America,” he added.

The suit originally also named pharmacy retailers Rite-Aid and Giant Eagle as plaintiffs in the case. Rite-Aid settled in August and agreed to pay Trumbull County $1.5 million in damages, while a settlement amount with Lake County has not been released. Giant Eagle agreed to settle late last month, although terms of that agreement were not disclosed.

The case, which was decided by a 12-person jury after a six-week trial, was returned in one of about 3,000 federal opioid lawsuits being supervised by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland. Adam Zimmerman, who teaches mass litigation at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that the verdict could prompt other pharmaceutical retailers to settle their pending cases.

“It’s the first opioid trial against these major household names,” Zimmerman told the New York Times. “They have been the least willing group of defendants to settle, so this verdict is at least a small sign to them that these cases won’t necessarily play out well in front of juries.”

Pharmacy Chains Will Appeal Verdict

All three retailers have indicated that they will appeal the jury’s verdict. Walmart said in a statement that the plaintiffs’ attorneys sued “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.”

Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman characterized the case as an unsustainable effort “to resolve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law,” adding that the company “never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis.”

“As plaintiffs’ own experts testified, many factors have contributed to the opioid abuse issue, and solving this problem will require involvement from all stakeholders in our health care system and all members of our community,” CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis said in a statement after the verdict was announced.

The retail pharmacies are not alone in their criticism of the verdict. Dr. Ryan Marino, an assistant professor of the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Psychiatry at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, says that focusing on blaming the pharmaceutical industry, prescribers, and pharmacies ignores the role that bad policies have played in the opioid crisis.

“If retail pharmacies are declared responsible, I ask that we also hold policymakers responsible for their role in driving people to foreseeable death and failing to act to prevent disordered substance use or addiction by failing to provide access to safety in addition to basic things like housing, education, employment, and income, which are well known to prevent addiction in the first place,” Marino wrote in an email to High Times. “The same old approaches have not helped this problem, and in fact, seem to be only making it worse.”

Some drug manufacturers and distributors including Johnson & Johnson have also opted to settle cases brought against them for their alleged contributions to the opioid crisis, which has killed more than 500,000 Americans over the past twenty years. Kevin Roy, chief public policy officer at addiction solutions advocacy group Shatterproof, said that Tuesday’s verdict could prompt other pharmacies to consider a settlement.

“It’s a signal that the public, at least in select places, feels that there’s been exposure and needs to be remedied,” Roy said.

Roy noted, however, that the different courts hearing opioid cases have not been consistent in their judgments and that the details of public nuisance laws vary from state to state. Earlier this month, a California judge ruled in favor of drug manufacturers in a case brought by the city of Oakland and three counties. And in Oklahoma on November 9, the state Supreme Court overturned a 2019 verdict for $465 million against Johnson & Johnson.

“There’s been a variety of different decisions lately that should give us reason to be cautious about what this really means in the grand scheme,” Roy said.

Just how much Walgreens, CVS and Walmart will have to pay Trumbull and Lake Counties remains to be seen. The judge is expected to issue a decision on damages to be awarded in the case in the spring.

The post Jury Finds Pharmacy Chains Contributed to Ohio’s Opioid Crisis appeared first on High Times.

30% Death Increase! Is Cannabis the Answer to Massive Opioid Epidemic?

2020 wasn’t a good year for anyone but the companies operating during the pandemic. And this is now reflected in the massive increase in opioid use throughout the US. What was already a huge problem, is now skyrocketing out of control, thanks, in part to quarantine. Is cannabis the answer to this growing opioid epidemic?

There are tons of reasons to use cannabis, and one of them is for pain. In fact, cannabis could be the best answer for the massive, and growing, opioid epidemic in the US. Whether you’re interested in it as a pain remedy, for some other medical purpose, or just to feel good, the important thing is to get the right product. One of the best medical AND recreational options, is delta-8 THC. This alternate version of THC causes less anxiety, less couch locking, and slightly less psychoactive effect, which leaves the user with more energy. If this sounds good to you, check out our array of delta-8 THC deals, and pick your favorite product.

Where were we before this year?

Prior to 2020, and the start of corona and forced quarantine measures, there was already an opioid issue in the US, and not a small one. Different sources have different numbers, but despite discrepancies, the one clear fact, is that this is a massive problem. For example, whether you go with hhs.gov, which puts overdoses in 2019 at close to 71,000, or drugabuse.gov, which puts it at 50,000, a lot of Americans died that year because of these drugs. Since hhs.gov gives more statistics, we’ll use this site to get an idea of what we’re dealing with numbers-wise. In the year 2019, these things happened:

  • Opioid overdoses – 70,630
  • People who used heroin – 745,000
  • People who used heroin for the first time – 50,000
  • Heroin-related overdoses – 14,480
  • Misuse of prescription painkillers for 1st time – 1.6 million
  • Misuse of painkillers in general – 10.1 million
  • Synthetic opioid deaths – 48,000

And a few more facts:

cannabis an answer to opioid epidemic

In 2017, more than 191 opioid prescriptions were handed out. That means 58.7 prescriptions written for every 100 people. Primary care physicians – who were not supposed to be doling out opioid prescriptions as a first approach, were doing so at the rate of 45% of all prescriptions written. And the economic burden from all of the health care, emergency care, addiction treatment, lost productivity, and criminal justice response, costs approximately $78.5 billion a year. What a waste of money!

These numbers might not be completely accurate, but they tell a compelling story. For one thing, over 70,000 people dying in one year of overdoses is insane, considering how many of these people were prescribed the drugs they overdosed on. We are not dealing with a street drug issue, and this should be clear from the numbers. We’re dealing with a pharmaceutically funded, physician-pushed, crisis. The fact that heroin use paled in comparison to prescription painkiller use by such massive margins, is astonishing.

Furthermore, the idea that the term ‘misuse’ is used in the case of prescription drugs, with such large numbers attached, goes to show that the powers that be, want to put the onus of this, on the drug users themselves. This, despite that fact that the numbers show it can’t be expected that people will be able to use such drugs correctly. Probably because of their incredibly strong addictive properties. It is not for patients to determine if a drug is safe for how its prescribed. That’s for doctors. The information above shows that trained medical professionals often do not ask the right questions, do not understand what they’re working with, and do not know how to find information for themselves.

What happened in 2020?

2020 really wasn’t a good year for most people. A lot of jobs were lost, a lot of plans broken, a lot of life, completely stalled. And this involved forced quarantines whereby the population was made to stay at home, even as paychecks ran out, and the ability to put food on the table was diminished. People eschewed seeing friends and family, and even getting basic exercise, at the behest of the government.

While this is still a touchy subject for many, I would be remiss if I did not point out, that many of the same pharmaceutical companies profiting off the opioid epidemic, are the same ones pushing people to get corona vaccines. And the same doctors who could not think for themselves, and prescribed those opiates, are the same ones telling people they should get vaccinated. If ever there was a time to question something in life, this is that time.

But this article isn’t about corona vaccines, and that’s a different subject. For our current purposes, we want to see how the events of the past year affected opioid use. And the answer isn’t a pretty one. According to Marketwatch, and preliminary data from the CDC, opioid overdoses went up a full 30% in 2020, fueled mainly by stress and isolation. Whereas there is a discrepancy for numbers for 2019 – 50,000 and 70,000, the number for 2020, is 93,331, well above either estimate for 2019. This is the sharpest increase in three decades.

The main culprit? Not heroin, but fentanyl. One of the pharmaceutical versions to make it big. Fentanyl was already on the rise starting in 2019 – once again, probably because it’s a highly addictive drug that got prescribed by doctors not able to think for themselves – and picked up speed in March 2020 when lockdowns started. Not only is this an example of doctors unable to do their jobs properly, but of pharmaceutical greed, and the idea of ancillary damage. These deaths were not caused by the corona virus, but the reaction to it. These deaths can be put with those that will come from the increase in poverty, and lack of government resources.

prescription opioids

Treating pain

I think it would be massively insensitive, and fundamentally wrong, to say that cannabis can do exactly what opiates can, it cannot. Opiates are literally numbing, which is why they’re so good for pain. They attach to receptors in the body that block pain messages from getting to the brain, so you literally won’t feel the pain you’re actually meant to feel. On the other hand cannabis treats different kinds of pain in different ways. Cannabis treats physical pain (nociceptive), by reducing inflammation – since pain is a result of inflammation due to injury.

This happens by reducing inflammation, and blocking the inflammation pain signal to the brain. Cannabis also treats neuropathic pain – or damage to the nervous system. This pain is more difficult to treat since its not inflammation based, but results from damage to nerve cells. This can be done through activating serotonin receptors, or the activation of CB1 receptors. Cannabis can even treat difficult unclassified pain, like fibromyalgia, although admittedly, it is not well understood how.

The idea that we might need to experience a little pain in life, is uncomfortable, but realistic. However, we’ve gotten to the point where basic pain isn’t accepted anymore. Take childbirth, for example. No one used to have epidurals. Women gave birth for millennia without the use of drugs. Do you know any woman now who accepts the idea of childbirth without an epidural? It’s the same concept with other types of pain. Have a minor headache? Pop a Tylenol. Got a scratch? Take Ibuprofen. Twist your ankle a bit? Well surely you need something super heavy like opiates.

Cannabis as an answer to the opioid epidemic

Backing up that cannabis can be an answer to the opioid epidemic, this 2020 systematic review came out highlighting how cannabis use can reduce opioid dosages when used in tandem: Medical cannabis for the reduction of opioid dosage in the treatment of non-cancer chronic pain: a systematic review. The review shows an overall reduction in opioid use of 64-75%. These studies specifically did not deal with cancer-related pain, but do show that 32-59.3% of the non-cancer opioid users studied, were at least partially substituting opioid use with medical cannabis use to control their pain.

It is true that not a huge amount of research has been done on this topic, but other systematic reviews, like this one, also show positive results for cannabis use for pain: Cannabis and Pain: A Clinical Review. As more research is done, more specifics can be put out there for what kinds of pain exactly it can treat. What should be remembered, is that, even if it doesn’t numb pain quite as well as opiates, it also doesn’t come with a risk of death.

Perhaps our own training in dealing with pain is partly to blame. We have been groomed to not feel things, and opiates play into this. Cannabis can help with pain, but not in the same way. In a realistic and manageable way, yes. In a completely-numb-you-out-and-feel-nothing-way? No. And maybe that’s good. Maybe its better to take the edge off of something manageable, than to numb ourselves to the point of addiction. If cannabis had been used over opiates in all but the most extreme of cases, the country would be filled with stoners, not opiate addicts waiting to overdose.

cannabis answer opioid epidemic

Cannabis use for pain is seen both inside and outside of America. According to a Gallup poll from a few years ago, 40% of respondents specifically said they use CBD to treat their pain. Go across to Europe, and apparently 3/4 of the cannabis prescriptions written in Germany, are for pain.

How did this problem start?

In questioning whether cannabis is an answer to the opioid epidemic, perhaps we should ask, how did the whole problem start? Though the government is willing to give us plenty of information to back up a problem, what the government isn’t quite as loud about, is that it allowed this to happen. As in, the body meant to regulate and protect our country, allowed pharmaceutical companies to produce these medications, and for doctors to distribute them at will. This issue exists because the government allowed it to.

The CDC likes to try to break it down in a way that doesn’t put all the blame on government. The organization highlights three different waves of opioid deaths, starting in the 90’s. It started because of opioid prescriptions being given out at that time. Now, lets remember, heroin has been used for centuries, and there were plenty of junkies prior to pharmaceutical companies getting in on it in the 90s, yet somehow it wasn’t considered an epidemic until pharmaceutical companies intervened. That says an awful lot. The CDC claims the second wave came around 2010 with an increased use of heroin, and a third wave beginning in 2013 because of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Sounds like the CDC manufactured the second wave to try to make it seem like this wasn’t a pharmaceutical issue, when in reality, it makes very little sense for there to be a spike in heroin use, in between two waves of pharmaceutical opioid growth. In fact, I don’t see other publications making the same statement, and if they do mention any kind of rise in heroin overdoses, its related to poisonings, like cutting fentanyl with heroin, or because of not getting access to the pharmaceuticals. Which roundly puts this issue in the pharmaceutical/government court for blame. This is NOT a heroin issue, this is a pharmaceutical opioid issue.

How were so many doctors willing to ignore their training and prescribe these drugs? Excellent question. And while I can’t speak for what would allow a medical professional to be that bad at critical thinking, I will say that this should be remembered at times (like now) when drugs being put out by the same corporations, are being so heavily pushed by the same doctors who couldn’t establish in their own minds, that prescribing highly addictive drugs might cause a problem.

Cannabis an an answer to the opioid epidemic – Conclusion

No one ever said cannabis can do everything, and no one ever said it would take away all the pain a person has. But it can give a realistic alternative. So much so that the NFL wants CBD to treat the pain of its players. Maybe its not bad to experience a little pain in life. Maybe cannabis is a great answer to the opioid epidemic, so long as people are reasonable and realistic about what to expect. And maybe, just maybe, if people aren’t put on opiates as much in the future, we won’t have to continue having this discussion.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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New York Judge Schedules Opioid Epidemic Trial

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — A New York judge on Wednesday scheduled what could be the second state-level trial in the U.S. on the toll of opioids.

Judge Jerry Garguilo set a trial date of Jan. 20 for
claims brought by the state attorney general and the Long Island
counties of Nassau and Suffolk against a group of drug manufacturers and
distributors.

The judge has selected those claims to move ahead
while dozens of other cases he is overseeing from local New York
governments are on hold.

He is also not hearing claims against
OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma or members of the Sackler family who own
it. They are attempting to settle some 2,700 claims against the company
through federal bankruptcy court. States have agreed to put their suits
against the company and family members on hold for now.

Other
companies have also been trying to reach a settlement of more than 2,000
cases across the U.S. A proposed framework under consideration with the
drugmakers Teva and Johnson & Johnson and distributors
AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson could be worth up to $48
billion in cash and treatment drugs nationally over time. But the plan
has a ways to go before it’s accepted by states and other parties.

All the companies in the national settlement talks are among the defendants in the New York case.

An
Oklahoma judge this year ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572
million in the nation’s first opioid liability trial. Other defendants
settled before that trial.

The first federal trial had been
scheduled to start in October but was stopped when most of the
defendants reached settlements with the two Ohio counties who brought
the claims.

A federal judge has suggested moving ahead with four
different federal trials around the U.S., but the next cases have not
been finalized.

The post New York Judge Schedules Opioid Epidemic Trial appeared first on High Times.