Years of litigation over the opioid epidemic could end soon, as the national pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens announced Wednesday that each company has agreed to a nearly $5 billion settlement.
While neither of the companies admitted wrongdoing, the settlements are part of the fight over the drug industry's role in the epidemic that has led to 500,000 U.S. deaths in the past 20 years, the Associated Press reported. The pharmacies' role was in filling prescriptions they should have flagged as inappropriate, according to lawsuits from various state governments.
Most of the money will go toward programs that expand treatment for people with addiction, provide overdose antidotes and support prevention efforts. Exactly how much the pharmacies pay will depend on how many governments join the settlement, the AP reported.
“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. “We are committed to working with states, municipalities and [Native American] tribes, and will continue our own important initiatives to help reduce the illegitimate use of prescription opioids.”
CVS announced its settlement plan while submitting its earnings report, while Walgreens shared its details in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“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,” Walgreens said in a statement.
“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,” lawyers for local governments said in a statement, the AP reported. “In addition to payments totaling billions of dollars, these companies have committed to making significant improvements to their dispensing practices to help reduce addiction moving forward.”
Completed opioid settlements so far have reached more than $50 billion.
Earlier this year AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, all of whom are distributors, settled for a combined $21 billion. Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson settled for $5 billion.
The Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, which make OxyContin, have proposed to settle for up to $6 billion in cash plus the value of the company, the AP reported. In that settlement proposal, the company would become a new entity with profits fighting the epidemic. A court has put that plan on hold.
“One by one, we are holding every player in the addiction industry accountable for the millions of lives lost or devastated by the opioid epidemic,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “The companies that helped to create and fuel this crisis must commit to changing their businesses practices, and to providing the resources needed for treatment, prevention and recovery.”
Opioid deaths have reached record levels of about 80,000 a year. Most now involve illicit, lab-made fentanyl. The opioid crisis began with prescription drugs but has shifted, including to heroin, as they have become harder to obtain.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on the opioid epidemic.
SOURCE: Associated Press