By Brendan Pierson
(Reuters) – The state of New Mexico on Tuesday urged a judge to hold Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc responsible for fueling the opioid crisis in the state, delivering a closing argument in the latest of several trials around the country against the pharmacy chain.
“The state has proven that the opioid crisis existing in New Mexico was a foreseeable consequence of Walgreens’ conduct,” Dan Alberstone, a lawyer for the state, told Judge Francis Matthew in the 1st Judicial Circuit of New Mexico in Santa Fe.
Alberstone accused the company of failing to “maintain effective controls” against the diversion of opioids onto the black market, saying it dispensed suspicious prescriptions without adequate due diligence or documentation.
Steven Derringer, arguing for Walgreens, blamed the opioid crisis on excessive prescriptions and smaller, “mom and pop” pharmacies with lax controls. He said the state had not offered any evidence that Walgreens dispensed any prescriptions without “legitimate medical purpose.”
Reuters watched the proceeding via Courtroom View Network.
When the non-jury trial began six weeks ago, it also included claims against Walmart Inc and Kroger Co, but those companies settled with the state last month. The terms of those settlements have not been disclosed, and the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The U.S. opioid crisis has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths over two decades, according to government data. More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed, mostly by local governments, accusing drugmakers, distributors and pharmacy chains of fueling the crisis.
Major drugmakers and distributors have collectively agreed to pay tens of billions of dollars to settle opioid cases against them, but pharmacies have yet to strike a nationwide deal.
Two cases against pharmacies have been tried to a verdict.
One, brought by two Ohio counties, resulted in a jury verdict against Walgreens, Walmart and CVS Health Corp last year, and a judgment of more than $650 million last month.
The other, brought by San Francisco against Walgreens, resulted in a judge holding the company liable in August. A second phase of that trial to decide on a money judgment is scheduled for next month.
Walgreens and CVS also settled mid-trial with Florida for $683 million and $484 million, respectively. Walmart and CVS settled with West Virginia last month for $82.5 million and $65 million, respectively, a week before a scheduled trial.
Walgreens is scheduled to face trial in West Virginia next June.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)