CVS, Walgreens to pay $10.7 billion for alleged opioid prescription lapses

CVS and Walgreens have agreed to pay a combined $10.7 billion to settle allegations they failed to adequately oversee opioid painkiller prescriptions, thus contributing to America’s opioid addiction crisis.

The funds will be distributed to states, local governments and federally recognized tribes and will go toward opioid crisis abatement and remediation programs. CVS will pay $4.9 billion to states and political subdivisions and approximately $130 million to tribes. Walgreens will pay $4.95 billion, plus more than $750 million in fees for attorneys and costs. Payments will be made over time.

The pharmacy chains have also agreed to implement robust controlled substance compliance programs that will require additional layers of opioid prescription reviews and institute new mandatory training programs.

Between 2011 and 2020, the overdose death rate from all opioids tripled, from 7.3 deaths per 100,000 people to 21.4 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the nonprofit State Health Access Data Assistance Center. Even as declines from prescriptions like oxycontin have leveled off, deaths from heroin, which is illegal, and fentanyl, a commonly prescribed painkiller, have surged, the group said.

“When people can’t simply stop their consumption, as in the case of addiction, they often turn to substitutes,” wrote Colin Planalp, a research fellow at the center. “With opioids, that unfortunately left many people to seek out substances such as heroin on the illicit market, where the purity and potency is unreliable, making them even riskier than prescription opioids. And once drug traffickers embraced the potent opioid fentanyl, it pervaded the illegal drug trade and became entangled with non-opioid substances, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.”

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul led the settlement effort.

“The opioid epidemic has tragically affected too many Illinois families that have experienced addiction or even the death of a loved one,” he said in a statement. “This $10.7 billion settlement with Walgreens and CVS builds upon the important progress we’ve already achieved with previous settlements, but more importantly, it holds both companies accountable.”

As part of the settlement, neither company admitted to wrongdoing.

“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, chief policy officer and general counsel, CVS Health, said in a 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.”

“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 said in a statement.

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