Source: The Trentonian
The two largest U.S. pharmacy chains, CVS Health and Walgreen, have announced agreements in principle to pay about $5 billion each to settle lawsuits nationwide over the toll of opioids. Walmart, a third pharmacy behemoth, is in discussions for a deal.
The deals, if completed, would end thousands of lawsuits in which governments claimed pharmacies filled prescriptions they should have flagged as inappropriate. With settlements already proposed or finalized between some of the biggest drugmakers and distribution companies, the recent developments could be the among the last multibillion-dollar settlements to be announced.
They also would bring the total value of all settlements to more than $50 billion, with most of it required to be used by state and local governments to combat opioids, which have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the last two decades.
Under the tentative plans, CVS would pay $4.9 billion to local governments and about $130 million to Native American tribes over a decade. Walgreens would pay $4.8 billion to governments and $155 million to tribes over 15 years. The exact amount depends on how many governments join the deals. Both noted they have been addressing the crisis through such measures as starting educational programs and installing safe disposal units for drugs in stores and police departments. And both said the settlements would allow them to help while staying focused on their business.
“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.
If these settlements are completed, they would leave mostly smaller drug industry players as defendants in lawsuits. Just this week, a group of mostly regional pharmacy chains sent to a judge, who is overseeing federal litigation, information about claims they face, a possible precursor to scheduling trials or mediating settlements involving some of those firms.
Most of the nation’s opioid overdose deaths initially involved prescription drugs. As governments, doctors and companies took steps to make them harder to abuse and obtain, people addicted to them increasingly switched to heroin, which proved more deadly.
In recent years, opioid deaths have soared to record levels around 80,000 a year. Most of those deaths involve illicitly produced version of the powerful lab-made drug fentanyl, which is appearing throughout the U.S. supply of illegal drugs.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and members of the Sackler family who own the company have a proposed settlement that would involve up to $6 billion in cash, plus the value of the company, which would be turned into a new entity with its profits used to combat the epidemic. That plan has been put on hold by a court.
Neither Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS nor Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens is admitting wrongdoing.