(WKBN) — An appeals court ruled that a lawsuit claiming that Walgreens played a role in the overdose death of an Ohio high school athlete can move forward.
The case surrounds the death of Dublin Jerome High School graduate Stephen Mehrer, the injury he sustained while playing football, and the number of painkiller prescriptions that were filled for him.
Mehrer tore his rotator cuff in October 2009 and his doctor, Kenneth Westerheide, prescribed 50 hydrocodone pills for pain. A month later, Mehrer underwent surgery to repair the tear. On the day of his surgery, Walgreens dispensed 60 hydrocodone pills prescribed by Westerheide.
The day after Mehrer’s surgery, Walgreens filled another prescription for him for 50 oxycodone pills prescribed by Dr. Richard Fischer. Five days later, Walgreens dispensed 50 more oxycodone pills prescribed by Westerheide. And then again five days later, Walgreens dispensed 50 more hydrocodone pills to Mehrer.
In total, about 260 painkillers were dispensed to Mehrer within two months.
Mehrer’s parents claim this is when their son’s addiction began, which ended with a fatal overdose in 2017. Up until that time, Mehrer had entered drug rehabilitation five times to treat his addiction and experienced a period of sobriety until his overdose in October 2017.
Mehrer’s parents claim that Walgreens failed to flag the multiple prescriptions which led to his addiction and ultimately the wrongful death lawsuit they filed.
Walgreens has challenged the claims saying its actions were not the cause of Mehrer’s death and it won a summary judgment in April 2022, analyzing expert testimony the court said was “speculative” to connect the initial prescriptions to Mehrer’s death.
On appeal, the court ruled that just because a number of years had passed, it did not free Walgreens from the responsibility of knowing that the danger of addiction from such high dosages was possible and that records noted Walgreens’ computer system flagged the release of the painkillers but didn’t indicate the pharmacists made any calls to the prescribers.
The Tenth District Court noted that there is a dispute as to whether the pharmacists actually made the calls. The court also indicated that while the doctors testified there was a need for painkillers following the surgery, there is a reasonable dispute as to whether opioids were necessary and whether the amount dispensed by Walgreens was appropriate.
The two doctors were never disciplined for overprescribing the medication. They maintain that their prescriptions were reasonable and appropriate for treating Mehrer’s pain following surgery.
The court ruled that the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Mehrer’s parents may go forward.