CVS pharmacists convicted over Connecticut opioid scheme

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Steve Stein was one of four employees from CVS Pharmacy convicted of operating a drug distribution ring.

Four employees of drugstore chain CVS were convicted of conspiracy to distribute prescription opioids, in the first US court case to address the issue.

CVS had closed its stores in Connecticut after a period of pressure from drug regulators.

Prosecutors had accused the staff of coordinating the systematic sale of oxycodone and other painkillers to people who didn’t need them.

Three of the CVS pharmacists, and a pharmacy technician, were found guilty on Thursday in a unanimous verdict. A drug supplier was found guilty earlier this year.

The trial was unique, with drug regulators pledging not to take legal action if the drugstore employees complied with court orders.

Once the verdict was announced, the prosecution asked for US District Judge Vanessa Bryant to dismiss some of the charges, and for the remainder of the case to be taken over by the US attorney’s office in Connecticut.

“We look forward to prosecuting others who traffic in drugs that have caused pain and devastation for so many people around this country,” the prosecutor, Rod Rosenstein, said.

At a press conference on Friday, defence attorney James McLaughlin, whose client, Dr Eric Cramer, was convicted, said the trial had been “rigged” and people “have been punished for doing their jobs”.

Lawyers from CVS Drugstore, which is now Walgreens, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Correspondents say the prosecution is the result of “the great overstretch” of US law enforcement and money, put towards fighting the opioid crisis.

It is not the first time the practices of CVS Pharmacy have attracted scrutiny. In 2016, a CVS representative had to make public statements confirming the company had signed an agreement with state health officials to curtail the sale of highly addictive painkillers.

In a statement on Friday, Walmart, which was accused of negligence in the prosecution of Dr Cramer, said it would continue to monitor the outcome of the CVS case to ensure its commitment to reducing access to opioids remains intact.

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