Pharmacies Ordered to Pay $650 Million for Role in Opioid Epidemic

Photo by Randall Vermillion/

Two Ohio counties stood up to pharmaceutical giants and won, setting a precedent for other counties, cities, and states devastated by the opioid epidemic. On August 17th, 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster ordered the pharmacy chains of Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens to pay a combined total of $650.5 million to Ohio counties. Lake County and Trumbull County will receive the payments over the next 15 years and intend to use those payments to help addicts and families harmed by the region’s epidemic of opioid addiction.

The Breaking Story

Wallgreens neon sign
Photo by Jonathan Weiss

Though it took years to litigate, attorneys representing Lake and Trumbull counties successfully proved that three pharmacy companies egregiously oversupplied addictive opioid pain relievers to Ohio residents. The result? A devastating surge in opioid overdose deaths in Lake and Trumbull counties and surrounding communities. According to the plaintiffs, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS pharmacies acted much like mills, simply churning out opioid painkillers at rates far greater than the communities could have possibly needed.

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda went on record to say he hoped the dollars won from the pharma giants would fund treatment resources and healing modalities for the thousands of local families affected. In his own words, “For years, the dedicated frontline workers of Trumbull County have fought to address the harms of the opioid crisis. The news today means that we will soon have the long-awaited resources necessary to extend aid to properly address the harms caused by this devastating epidemic.”

Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck had similar remarks. In his recorded statement, he said, “Today marks the start of a new day in our fight to end the opioid epidemic. Lake County remains committed to continuing the critical relief work performed by our incredible frontline workers consistent with the court’s ruling.”

Drug Overdose Mortality, A Painful Picture for Ohioans

Drug overdose mortality by state

It does not take a stretch of the imagination to wonder why Ohio residents felt that there was such a gross injustice in how the state’s pharmacies distributed opioid drugs among residents. A look at data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals Ohio has the fourth highest overdose death rate in the nation, behind West Virginia, Kentucky, and Delaware. Further, Ohio has the third highest rate of total deaths, with only heavily populated states like California and Florida ahead of it in terms of total overdose deaths.

In addition to federal agencies like the CDC recognizing that the overdose crisis hit Ohio especially hard, local and state agencies in Ohio have been ringing the alarm bell for years. According to an Ohio Department of Health briefing:

  • Drug overdoses claim more lives in Ohio than motor vehicle crashes. In 2007, drug overdoses became the leading cause of injury-related death in the state, well beyond car crashes. Overdoses have stayed at or near the top for leading causes of preventable death in the state ever since.
  • In 1999, 369 people died from drug overdoses in Ohio. In 2009, 1,817 people lost their lives, a 335% increase. And in 2020, 5,204 people in the state lost their lives from overdoses.
  • Ohio public health officials attribute the shocking spike in fatal overdoses to prescription opioid pain relievers, primarily from Ohioans receiving far too potent opioid drugs in too high quantities to treat symptoms that physicians could have treated with low-dosage analgesics.
  • While Ohio deaths from firearms, homicides, suicides, and car accidents stayed the same or increased slightly in the 2000s, drug overdoses soared by 301%. The next closest cause of preventable death was unintentional falls, which increased by 100%.
  • The Ohio Department of Health determined, “Prescription opioids (pain medications) are associated with more overdoses than any other prescription or illegal drug, including cocaine and heroin.” That determination is a powerful indictment of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies, institutions that had attempted to pass the blame for the state’s fatal drug overdose epidemic onto illegal street drugs (even when pharmaceutical opioids were found in addicts’ post-overdose toxicology reports).

Finally, the Ohio Department of Health concluded its thesis by pointing out how there has been a direct correlation between an increase in sales of prescription opioids in Ohio and fatal drug overdoses. For example, between 1999 and 2007, drug overdoses surged 304% while opioid prescriptions surged 325%.

Drugs distribution in grams by year in Ohio
Image Source:

Ohio Is Mobilizing, but Help Is Still Needed

In addition to the legal victories, the Ohio Department of Health has mobilized to address the issue of widespread opioid addiction in the state. The Take Charge Ohio program assists addicts, families, patients, prescribers, and communities in accessing tools and information. The Ohio Overdose Prevention Network coordinates to save lives and reduce drug overdoses. The Recovery Ohio Advisory Council is tasked with providing better recovery resources for addicted Ohioans. The department is also working on local community projects, naloxone distribution, and raising public awareness of the state’s opioid epidemic.

These are all movements in the right direction, and it is hoped that court victories against pharma manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies will help fund the above campaigns. But more importantly, those addicted to drugs in Ohio must get help at residential drug rehab centers. Despite rising public awareness and efforts to tackle addiction in Ohio, the death rate in the Buckeye State has not subsided, meaning every individual who uses drugs is at high risk for a drug overdose. That’s why making treatment available to addicts must remain a top priority for Ohio leaders and families.

If you know someone struggling with a drug problem, please help them find and enter a residential facility today. Please don’t wait until it is too late.


  • Hill. “Walmart, CVS and Walgreens ordered to pay $650 million to Ohio counties for opioid crisis.” The Hill, 2022.
  • CDC. “Drug Overdose Mortality by State.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.
  • ODH. “Epidemic of Prescription Drug Overdose in Ohio.” Ohio Department of Health, 2010.
  • ODH. “Drug Overdose.” Ohio Department of Health, 2022.



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.