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Judge dismisses pharmacies' lawsuit against physicians

CLEVELAND (AP) — A federal judge in Cleveland has dismissed an effort by pharmacy companies to shift their liability for the opioid crisis to physicians and practitioners in the two Ohio counties suing them, alleging they created a public nuisance.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster ruled Tuesday that lawsuits filed by Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, and Summit County, which includes Akron, are not tied to prescribing practices, but to the failure of the companies to implement systems and policies to prevent the illegal diversion of painkillers.

“Plaintiffs' theory and intended proof do not rely on whether prescribers made negligent or fraudulent representations,” Polster wrote. Adding claims against prescribers would cause a significant delay in the trial of the counties' lawsuits against Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Discount Drug Mart and HBC, scheduled to begin in November, Polster said.

The two counties reached a $250 million settlement with three drug distributors and a generic drug manufacturer before the start of a trial last October. Attorneys for the pharmacy chains argued in a filing in January that Polster should reject the counties' claims because pharmacies can fill only prescriptions written by prescribers authorized by the state of Ohio and registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“While pharmacists are highly trained and licensed professionals, they did not attend medical school and are not trained as physicians,” the attorneys wrote. The executive committee for plaintiff attorneys in the multi-district opioid litigation issued a statement Wednesday applauding Polster's ruling.

“The dismissal of defendants’ third-party claims reaffirms that pharmacies must be held accountable for years of sidestepping their obligations under the law to protect the American people from controlled substances,” the statement said.

Polster is overseeing more than 2,000 opioid-related lawsuits filed by cities, counties, tribal governments and hospitals against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies seeking to hold them accountable for the opioid crisis, which has been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000.

Those deaths include fatal overdoses from both prescription opioids and illegal ones such as heroin and illicitly made fentanyl.

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