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How Hamilton’s move to sue drug retailers fits into a giant national opioid lawsuit

Published: Friday, March 15, 2019 @ 6:00 AM

Stunning aerial view of downtown Hamilton

The city of Hamilton, one of about 1,500 entities suing to recover some of their losses from the national opioid drug crisis, on Wednesday took a step toward authorizing its lawyers to sue major drug stores and major retailers with pharmacy operations.

Hamilton will officially allow the lawyers in a class-action lawsuit to file against businesses including CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, plus stores with prescription-drug businesses, including Kroger and Walmart, at an upcoming meeting. But because of scheduling needs, that filing has already happened.

The filing against those companies was entered with the U.S. District Court in Cleveland in the case on Thursday, and those retailers have been added as defendants, said Anthony Majestro, a lawyer based in Charleston, W.Va. who is representing 600 clients of the 1,500 in the multi-jurisdictional lawsuit involving opioids .

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Lawyers representing Hamilton did not immediately answer the question why they were adding the retailers. Butler County, which in November 2017 sued 20 major drug companies and distributors for $5 million, also is part of the same lawsuit.

Hamilton and other governments filed their lawsuit in August, and numerous lawsuits, including the one filed by Butler County, have been merged into one, which is called the multidistrict litigation and is being overseen by Judge Dan Aaron Polster in the Northern District Court of Ohio.

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Kroger Corporate Affairs Manager Erin Rolfes said her company would not comment on the pending lawsuit.

At the end of Wednesday’s council meeting, officials went behind closed doors to discuss the litigation, announcing they might come out afterward to take a vote.

After a few minutes, they returned to a public session, and Council Member Carla Fiehrer made the motion to add the companies.

City leaders did not comment after their unanimous vote. Instead, they released a written statement. It said: “When we filed our initial Complaint in August 2018, the city did not have access to the data maintained by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration known as ARCOS (Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System) which contains information regarding all shipments of opioids in the United States.

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“The Federal Court in Cleveland recently allowed us to receive reports naming the manufacturers and distributors who supplied opioids to our city. Based on those reports, we have decided to amend our complaint to add additional manufacturers and distributors whom we believe are among those responsible for the city’s opioid epidemic.”

Fiehrer’s motion called for the city to prepare documents making it possible to amend the lawsuit. The full list in her motion was, “CVS, H.D. Smith, Kroger, Meijer, Par Pharmaceutical, Rite Aid, Spec Gx LLC, Walgreens Co., and Wal-Mart.”

The governments have sued to recover some of the costs they have faced because of the crisis, including increased prices of policing, emergency-squad runs, providing programs to combat the crisis and other expenses.

Staff Reporter Denise Callahan contributed reporting