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CVS, Walgreens agree to settle opioid lawsuits for $10 billion

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CVS Health and Walgreens, two of the nation’s largest retail pharmacies, have agreed to pay about $10 billion to states, cities and Native American tribes to settle all opioid lawsuits.

The settlements announced Wednesday are not yet finalized, the companies said, and are not an admission of wrongdoing in the opioid epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. A substantial number of the plaintiffs would need to sign on to receive the funds.

If the CVS settlement goes through, the chain would distribute roughly $4.9 billion to states and local governments, and $130 million to Native American tribes over 10 years, beginning in 2023. Walgreens has tentatively agreed to pay $4.79 billion to states and $154.5 million to tribes. Walgreens would additionally pay about $753.5 million in attorneys’ fees; those charges are included in the CVS figure.

Walmart also has a settlement pending that will pay $3 billion to resolve similar lawsuits, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post. The retailer declined a request for comment.

During the sprawling years-long litigation, communities across the country have accused the retailers of dispensing pain pills with little regard for red flags and allowing opioids to be siphoned onto the black market. The retailers say they followed the law and blamed doctors for overprescribing.

Walgreens, which handled nearly 1 in 5 of the most addictive opioids at the height of the pill crisis, said the settlement “is in the best interest of the company and our stakeholders at this time.”

“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,” the company said in a statement.

The tentative settlements would allow the companies — among the last left in the national litigation with deep pockets — to avoid further judgments, after a series of losses in court.

The three were ordered to pay about $650 million earlier this year to two Ohio counties after a federal jury concluded that they played a significant role in the opioid crisis faced by Lake and Trumbull counties. In August, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled Walgreens “substantially contributed” to the city’s worsening drug problem; a trial to determine financial damages begins Monday.

The agreements would not extend to the Ohio counties or New Mexico, which recently wrapped up its own trial in state court.

Walgreens, CVS and Walmart ordered to pay $650 million in opioid lawsuit

Peter Mougey, an attorney representing some of the communities including San Francisco, said he believes the recent court decisions brought the companies to the table.

“I’m 100 percent confident that that message got back to the boardrooms of these three defendants and they knew that once these verdicts started coming out in full force that they were going to have a very, very difficult resolution,” he said. “There would be no more Walgreens if they got hit with multiple verdicts.”

In a statement, a national committee of lead plaintiff attorneys including Mougey encouraged communities to move quickly to collect their funds, which could go toward various abatement methods, including treatment programs, harm reduction and public awareness campaigns.

“Once effectuated, 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,” they said.

The national pharmacy deal comes after other major players, including the largest pharmaceutical makers and distributors, have already reached agreements to resolve litigation or finalize bankruptcy plans.

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