US pharmacy chains to pay $10 bn to settle opioid cases

US pharmacy chains to pay $10 bn to settle opioid cases

US pharmacy chains CVS Health and Walgreens said on Wednesday they had reached preliminary agreements to together pay more than $10 billion to resolve opioid claims from US states, cities and tribes.

The CVS logo is displayed outside a CVS store on November 18, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. CVS Health is closing 900 stores nationwide over the next three years in response to ‘changing buying patterns’ while employees whose stores close will be offer
Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

The opioid crisis, which has caused more than 500,000 deaths over 20 years in the United States, has triggered a flurry of lawsuits against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies from victims as well as cities, counties and states.

The pharmacies' agreements in principal are for much bigger sums than previously agreed by pharmacy chains, putting that sector in the same ballpark as drugmakers like Teva and Johnson & Johnson and distributors like AmerisourceBergen and McKesson that have previously reached multi-billion dollar agreements.

"We are pleased to resolve these longstanding claims and putting them behind us is in the best interest of all parties, as well as our customers, colleagues and shareholders," CVS chief policy officer Thomas Moriarty said in a statement.

"As one of the largest pharmacy chains in the nation, we remain committed to being a part of the solution," Walgreens said. "We believe this is in the best interest of the company and our stakeholders at this time."

Lawsuits against the retail chains have alleged the drugstores didn't do enough to root out the deluge of opioids that have ravaged communities across the United States.

The stores have argued they are not responsible for the crisis and that the health care system relies on pharmacies to fill legitimate prescriptions.

CVS and Walgreens each said the settlements include "no admission of wrongdoing or liability" by the companies.

The agreements announced Wednesday are contingent on sufficient approvals by counties, states, tribes and other political subdivisions and do not cover lawsuits involving private litigants.

Bloomberg News reported that Walmart also reached a tentative agreement involving billions of dollars. A Walmart spokesman declined comment.

CVS said its agreement will involve paying $5 billion to states, political subdivisions and tribes over the next 10 years, beginning in 2023.

CVS Chief Executive Karen Lynch told an earnings call that the company recognizes "the seriousness of the opioid abuse misconduct has had on so many Americans."

Walgreens plans payments of about $4.8 billion over 15 years to settling states, plus $144.5 million to Native American tribes over the same period and $753.5 million in attorney's fees over six years.

Both companies signaled they would continue to fight other lawsuits.

"The company will continue to vigorously defend against any litigation not covered by the Settlement Frameworks, including private plaintiff litigation. The Company continues to believe it has strong legal defenses and appellate arguments in all of these cases," said Walgreens.

- Multiple lawsuits -

CVS earlier this year announced an agreement to pay $484 million to the state of Florida to settle opioid claims, with the money set to fund treatments for drug misuse and health effects of the crisis.

The chain, along with Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart, agreed last summer to a $26 million settlement with two counties in New York state.

And an Ohio jury last November sided with two of the state's counties that sued Walmart, Walgreens and CVS, determining the three companies acted illegally in filling significant opioid prescriptions, creating an "oversupply" of the drugs and a "public nuisance."

For many people, opioid addiction begins with prescribed pain pills, before they increase their consumption and eventually turn to illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid.

Opioid victims and their families addressed the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, directly in a US courtroom in March as part of the company's bankruptcy case.

"We buried Matthew and Kyle because of your family's vicious acts of disregard for human life," Liz Fitzgerald said of the deaths of two of her sons, who died at ages 32 and 25 after years of dealing with opioid addictions.

"Two boys are gone because of your 'safe' medication," Fitzgerald said.

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