National pharmacy chains settle U.S. opioid cases for billions to be paid over a number of years.
Walgreens and CVS Health have agreed to settle thousands of U.S. state and local government lawsuits alleging they helped to fuel the opioid crisis. The combined payout totals $13.8 billion. Plaintiffs had claimed the national pharmacy chains ignored suspicious opioid orders and failed to report these to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as is required by law.
CVS Health announced that it would pay approximately $5 billion over 10 years and Walgreens will pay $5.7 billion over 15 years. Additionally, Walmart will fork over $3.1 billion upfront. Neither pharmaceutical company admitted to any wrongdoing.
Paul Geller, one of the attorneys who negotiated for the plaintiffs, said that settlements with pharmacies “will bring billions of additional dollars to communities that are desperate for funds to combat the epidemic of opioid addiction.” He added, “We know that reckless, profit-driven dispensing practices fueled the crisis; but we know just as surely that with better systems in place and proper heeding of red flag warnings, pharmacies can play a direct role in reducing opioid abuse and in saving lives.”
CVS Health general counsel Thomas Moriarty said the company was “pleased to resolve the claims and the deal was in the best interest of all parties, as well as our customers, colleagues and shareholders.”
Walgreens responded,”As one of the largest pharmacy chains in the nation, we remain committed to being a part of the solution, and this settlement framework will allow us to keep our focus on the health and well-being of our customers and patients, while making positive contributions to address the opioid crisis.”
There are cases still pending against regional pharmacy chains including Rite Aid and Kroger. San Francisco, California, has chosen not to be included in the national settlement. Instead, it is in the middle of a second trial against Walgreens.
In more than 3,000 lawsuits, state, local and Native American tribal governments accused drug manufacturers such as Insys and Purdue Pharma, among others, of minimizing the potential risks of taking their opioid painkillers. They also contended that distributors and pharmacies ignored red flags indicative of the addictive drugs being diverted for illicit use.
Federal government data shows that opioid overdoses have resulted in close to “650,000 overdose deaths since 1999, “a number that is only anticipated to grow. Overdoses involving opioids, both legal and illegal, skyrocketed during the height of the pandemic, increasing “38% in 2020 over the previous year and another 15% in 2021,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A congressional report released in October 2022 stated that the economic toll of the crisis in 2020 alone at “$1.5 trillion.”
Much of the issue as of late is the influx of illicit fentanyl being brought into the United States from Mexico. The chemicals for manufacturing this powerful synthetic opioid (up to 100 times more potent than morphine) are shipped from China. Many street drugs, including meth, cocaine and heroin, are being laced with fentanyl because it’s cheap and cuts down on dealer overhead. This has led to a spike in overdose fatalities and the problem doesn’t seem to be dying down anytime soon.