CVS, Walgreens agree to $10B in tentative deals to resolve opioid lawsuits

CVS and Walgreens tentatively agreed to pay a combined $10 billion to resolve lawsuits brought by states and local governments alleging the retailers mishandled prescriptions of opioid painkillers.

Walmart has also tentatively agreed to pay $3 billion to settle similar lawsuits, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the matter. The settlement won't be finalized until enough states, counties and cities agree to the terms, the publication reported.

A Walmart spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday on the retail giant's potential share of the settlement.

If the settlement is reached, it will pay approximately $5 billion over the next 10 years beginning in 2023, according to CVS' press release. The drugstore chain will pay $4.9 billion to states and political subdivisions and $130 million to resolve opioid claims brought by Native American tribes.

The financial resolution is designed to "substantially resolve all opioid lawsuits and claims against the company by states, political subdivisions, such as counties and cities, and tribes," CVS said in the release.

The agreement would fully resolve claims dating back a decade or more and is not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing, according to the release.

"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,” said Thomas Moriarty, chief policy officer and general counsel at CVS Health, in the press release. “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.” 

The company said it has invested in a number of initiatives to fight opioid abuse and has made significant investments in technology and procedures to support its pharmacists in exercising their professional obligations, as well as policies, procedures and controls relating to the dispensing of controlled substances.

Walgreens, in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday, said it would provide approximately $4.79 billion in remediation payments to be made over 15 years, including about $154 million for participating tribes and more than $750 million in legal fees.

“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," Walgreens executives said in a press release. "We believe this is in the best interest of the company and our stakeholders at this time, and allows our pharmacists, dedicated healthcare 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.”

Walgreens also pointed to steps the company has taken to respond to the opioid crisis, such as making lifesaving Naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, available in all Walgreens pharmacies nationwide, implementing time delay safes in nearly all Walgreens locations to help combat theft and drug diversion and deploying technology to help pharmacists ensure they are dispensing prescriptions written for a legitimate medical purpose.

U.S. states, cities and counties have filed more than 3,000 lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, accusing them of downplaying the addiction risk and failing to stop pills from being diverted for illegal use, CNN reported.

A federal judge in August ruled that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart must pay $650.5 million to two Ohio counties in a case related to the opioid epidemic. The lawsuit was initially filed in 2018, and the damages awarded will go to opioid abatement measures. 

Teva Pharmaceutical in July announced it would pay $4.25 billion as part of a nationwide settlement to end litigation over its alleged role in the U.S. opioid crisis, Fierce Pharma reported. The agreement in principle was struck with the working group of states’ attorneys general, Native American tribes and local plaintiffs.

In March, Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family announced a $6 billion settlement with a group of states and victims of the U.S. opioid epidemic. The civil settlement is 40% larger than the $4.3 billion deal inked between the company and dozens of states in 2021. 

Johnson & Johnson and three major drug distributors—AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson—finalized a landmark $26 billion settlement in February to resolve claims that they helped fuel the opioid crisis.

In February 2021, major consulting firm McKinsey & Co. agreed to pay $573 million to 47 states and the District of Columbia to settle allegations over its role in the opioid epidemic.