CVN screenshot of New Mexico Judge Francis Matthew hearing opening statements on Tuesday
Santa Fe, NM - A New Mexico judge heard opening statements Tuesday in a lawsuit alleging three major U.S. pharmacy operators contributed to the state’s opioid epidemic, and the full trial is being webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
Walgreens Boots Alliance, Walmart Inc. and Kroger Co. face claims from New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas that for years they recklessly fulfilled supposedly illegitimate opioid prescriptions despite the presence of alleged “red flags” that should have drawn more scrutiny.
Balderas told Judge Francis Matthew, who is presiding over a bench trial without a jury, that the pharmacies failed in their duty to serve as a “dam” against a wave of opioid prescriptions that Balderas maintains showed evidence of numerous irregularities.
"The defendants had a legal duty, I believe, to hold back the flood and protect New Mexicans from harm," Balderas told Judge Matthew during his opening statement, according to CVN’s webcast of the proceedings.
Attorney Dan Alberstone of Baron & Budd, also representing the state, added during his portion of the opening statement that the three companies were responsible for the distribution of 550 million opioid pills in New Mexico from 2006 through 2019, an amount he said amounted to over 263 pills for every New Mexico resident.
Attorney John Majoras of Jones Day, representing Walmart and delivering an opening statement on behalf of all three defendants, argued the state would be unable during trial to present clear evidence that the pharmacies “knowingly” filled illegitimate prescriptions, arguing to the court that pharmacists should not be expected to be automatically skeptical of valid prescriptions written by licensed physicians for FDA-approved medications.
New Mexico is pursuing a so-called “public nuisance” legal strategy, arguing that the pharmacies should pay for abatement costs including millions of dollars in drug treatment the state had to cover as addiction numbers skyrocketed.
While the public nuisance strategy was rejected in recent opioid trials in California state court and West Virginia federal court, a bellwether trial in Ohio federal court did result in a $650 million judgment against Walgreens, Walmart and CVS Health Corp. A subsequent trial in federal court in San Francisco also resulted in a liability finding against Walmart, though a judgment in that case remains pending.
Many of the country’s largest drug makers and distributors have struck settlements collectively worth billions of dollars in opioid lawsuits brought by state and local governments, but to date pharmacy defendants have elected to press their cases to trial.
Another trial involving pharmacy defendants is slated to begin in West Virginia state court in late September, and those proceedings will also be webcast gavel-to-gavel by CVN.
The current trial in New Mexico is slated to take roughly two months to complete. CVN’s gavel-to-gavel coverage will continue for the duration of the proceedings.
The case is captioned State of New Mexico v. Purdue Pharma, et al., case number D-101-CV-201702541.
E-mail David Siegel a firstname.lastname@example.org