Walgreens Strikes $83 Million Settlement With West Virginia Over Opioid Crisis


Topline

Walgreens has agreed to pay West Virginia $83 million to settle allegations the pharmacy chain contributed to the opioid crisis in the state, which has the nation’s highest overdose death rate, state officials announced Wednesday, joining a series of settlements between West Virginia and other pharmacies in recent months.

Key Facts

Walgreens has agreed to pay the $83 million within an eight-year period, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a release, adding the money will “provide help to those affected the most by this crisis in West Virginia.”

The state claimed Walgreens had contributed to an “oversupply” of prescription opioids and failed to stop the powerful, addictive painkillers from being diverted for illegal uses, resulting in higher medical treatment costs for drug rehabilitation in the state—specifically for minors born addicted to opioids.

The lawsuit is part of a string of litigation between the state and other pharmacies, including Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid, though settlements of $65 million, $82.5 million and $30 million have been reached since August, respectively.

Walgreens did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.

Surprising Fact

West Virginia led the nation in overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with a death rate of 81.4. Kentucky is in a distant second place, with a death rate of 49.2.

Big Number

$10 billion. That’s how much CVS, Walgreens and Walmart agreed to pay in November to settle similar lawsuits with state and local governments and Native American tribes nationwide.

Key Background

More than 3,000 state and local governments have targeted opioid drugmakers and distributors for their involvement in the opioid epidemic, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. Some of the lawsuits allege drugstores and pharmaceutical companies did not take enough action to halt the illegal distribution of pills into communities or encouraged doctors to overprescribe the addictive drugs, while pharmacies have claimed they followed proper protocols and tried to ensure the pills were not misused. More than 564,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2020, according to the CDC, with many overdose deaths now linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Tangent

The most significant opioid settlement so far is with OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma. Last year, members of the Sackler family, which controls Purdue, agreed to pay up to $6 billion and hand over the company to a new entity whose profits will go toward combating the opioid crisis, but the family did not acknowledge any wrongdoing. A 2021 settlement between 12 states, Johnson & Johnson and major pharmaceutical distributors Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson also resulted in $26 billion in payments in addition to a commitment by the companies to improve safety and oversight over opioid distribution. This followed an earlier $650 million settlement between Walgreens, CVS and Walmart and multiple Ohio counties over opioid-related claims.

What To Watch For

A trial between West Virginia and Kroger is set for June, Morrisey said, as the state alleges Kroger’s pharmacy chain failed to report suspicious drug orders to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy.

Further Reading

CVS, Walgreens And Walmart Agree To Pay More Than $10 Billion To Settle Opioid Claims (Forbes)


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