NEW YORK — CVS and Walgreens said this month they had reached tentative agreements to pay nearly $5 billion each to settle lawsuits over their roles in the opioid crisis.
If completed, the deals would hasten the end of thousands of lawsuits in which state, local iiand tribal governments claimed pharmacies filled prescriptions that should have been flagged as inappropriate.
Pat Geller, a lawyer for governments in the lawsuits, told the Associated Press that talks were continuing with Walmart that could lead to a settlement.
Settlements have already been reached with some of the biggest drug makers and distributors. The total value of the settlements could exceed $50 billion if the settlements with CVS and Walgreens are finalized, with most of the money required to be used to combat the opioid epidemic, which recently has shifted to black market opioids but began more than two decades ago with government-approved drugs and is blamed for the deaths of more than 500,000 people in the United States.
Neither CVS nor Walgreens is admitting wrongdoing.
“We are pleased to resolve these long-standing claims, and putting them behind us is in the best interest of all parties, as well as our customers, colleagues and shareholders,” said Thomas Moriarty, chief policy officer and general counsel at CVS Health. “We are committed to working with states, municipalities and tribes, and will continue our own important initiatives to help reduce the illegitimate use of prescription opioids.”
Walgreens issued a statement saying that the settlement framework allows the company to keep its focus on the well-being of customers while continuing to make positive contributions in the fight against opioid abuse. “We believe this is in the best interest of the company and our stakeholders at this time, and allows our pharmacists, dedicated health care professionals who live and work in the communities they serve, to continue playing a critical role in providing education and resources to help combat opioid misuse and abuse,” according to the statement.
Walgreens pointed to actions taken to respond to the opioid crisis, including:
•·Ongoing patient education on safe opioid use.
•·Making life-saving Naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, available in all of its pharmacies.
•·Providing medication disposal options at all Walgreens pharmacies.
•·Implementing time-delay safes in nearly all Walgreens locations to combat theft and drug diversion.
•·Deploying technology to help pharmacists ensure they are dispensing prescriptions written for a legitimate medical purpose.
In its statement, CVS highlighted steps CVS Health is taking, including:
•·Investments in technology and procedures to support pharmacists in exercising their professional obligations.
•·Policies, procedures and controls relating to the dispensing of controlled substances.
•·Educational programs on prescription drug misuse that have reached 1.8 million teens and parents.
•·Rollout of more than 4,750 safe medication disposal units in stores and local police departments, which to date have collected more than 4.5 million pounds of unused medication.
•·Nationwide access in CVS Pharmacy locations to life-saving opioid overdose reversal medication.
The settlements by the pharmacy chains came a few months after two Ohio counties were awarded $650 million in damages in a lawsuit against CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, claiming the way the companies distributed pain medications significantly harmed the communities.
The August 17 ruling was the first by a federal judge that assigns monetary damages against the chains for their roles in the crisis.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster ruled the money be used to abate an ongoing opioid crisis in Lake and Trumbull counties. The counties had sought $3 billion in damages. Polster ruled the pharmacies bore responsibility for one-third of the amount that the counties need to address the toll from the epidemic, with drug manufacturers and drug distributors also bearing responsibility.