CVS, Walgreens and Walmart Settle Opioid Lawsuits for $13B

November 3, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
CVS, Walgreens and Walmart Settle Opioid Lawsuits for $13B
CVS Pharmacy (Photo by Dan McCue)

Drugstore retailers CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens on Wednesday announced a $10 billion settlement of thousands of state and local lawsuits accusing the companies of mishandling their sales of opioid painkillers.

Walmart has tentatively agreed to pay another $3 billion to settle claims.

The agreements could end years of lawsuits if they win final approval from states, cities and counties that sued on behalf of their citizens.

Opioids are powerful painkillers known for giving users a sense of euphoria that can be addictive. They are blamed for more than 500,000 deaths in the United States in the past two decades.

Beginning with an aggressive pharmaceutical company marketing campaign that downplayed dangers of the drug, opioid prescriptions rose in the United States from 76 million in 1991 to 207 million in 2013, when the Food and Drug Administration realized their use was getting out of control.

By 2014, nearly two million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that 71,238 Americans died from opioids last year, up from 57,834 in 2020.

Persons who became addicted to the drugs, or families of the deceased victims, sued pharmaceutical companies that manufactured them and their distributors, such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.

The manufacturers have already settled for $26 billion. They included Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.

The retailers said doctors who prescribed the drugs should be blamed, not the drugstores. Their legal defense met with different degrees of success or failure in various states.

The lawsuits accused the companies of filling vast numbers of opioid prescriptions that were not medically necessary.

The lawsuits were consolidated into class actions that were being handled primarily by federal courts in Ohio and San Francisco. Settlement discussions with state attorneys general started shortly after the companies lost key legal battles in both courts.

The settlement money is supposed to be used to control drug addictions in states and cities that will share the money.

“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,” Thomas Moriarty, CVS chief policy officer and general counsel, said in a statement.

Walgreens said in a statement: “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 wellbeing of our customers and patients, while making positive contributions to address the opioid crisis.”

A statement from lawyers for local governments said, “These agreements will be the first resolutions reached with pharmacy chains and will equip communities across the country with the much-needed tools to fight back against this epidemic and bring about tangible, positive change.”

Tom can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @tramstack.

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