In recent decades, the irresponsible prescription and distribution of opioid pain medications has resulted in tens of thousands of overdose deaths and immense harm to families and individuals from the harmful effects of the addictive drugs. Recent lawsuits filed on behalf of states and counties across the country against drug manufacturers have resulted in billions of dollars in settlements and awards to the plaintiffs to compensate them for the harm caused by the opioid epidemic. In a first-of-its-kind new verdict, a federal jury has found that pharmacies can also be held accountable for their contribution to the flood of opioid drugs onto our streets.
According to a national news report, a federal jury in Ohio reached a verdict in a case filed by several Ohio counties against three major pharmacy chains. The lawsuit alleged that the pharmacy chains contributed to a public nuisance by their lack of oversight in filling prescriptions for dangerous opioid drugs which contributed to overdoses and deaths within their jurisdictions. The decision represents the first time that a judge or jury has found that public nuisance laws apply to pharmacies in this context, and could result in other successful lawsuits against pharmacies for their role in the opioid epidemic. The news report cautions that similar cases have failed in other states and that each state’s differing public nuisance laws will play a role in whether pharmacies can be held accountable for their prescribing practices. Additionally, the defendants pledge to appeal the verdict to higher courts.
Licensed pharmacists have a duty to act in certain cases if they know or should know that a prescription is suspicious or erroneous. While the recent verdict determined that this duty can extend to filling opioid prescriptions, it also applies in a broader sense to other dangerous or mistaken prescriptions that a person attempts to fill. For example, a pharmacist has a duty to ensure that the dosage and drug prescribed to a patient are safe when considering the information known to the pharmacist. This duty helps prevent mistakes or typos by prescribing doctors from harming or killing patients who fill their prescriptions at a pharmacy. If a pharmacist fills a prescription that has a known harmful drug interaction with another medication that a patient is prescribed, they may be held accountable in civil court for the damages stemming from the prescription error, even if a licensed doctor wrote the prescription and it was properly filled.