CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Walmart Inc have tentatively agreed to pay about $13.8 billion to resolve thousands of U.S. state and local government lawsuits accusing the chains of mishandling opioid painkillers, Reuters reports. The proposed settlement calls for CVS to pay $5 billion over 10 years, Walgreens to pay $5.7 billion over 15 years and Walmart to pay $3.1 billion, mostly up front. CVS announced its portion of the deal, which includes $4.9 billion for state, county and city governments and $130 million for Native American tribes, Wednesday. "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 CVS general counsel Thomas Moriarty. The company did not admit wrongdoing.
The proposed settlement, which would be the first nationwide deal with retail pharmacy companies, follows nationwide opioid settlements with drugmakers and distributors totaling more than $33 billion. In more than 3,300 lawsuits, beginning in 2017, state and local governments accused drugmakers of downplaying the risks of their opioid pain medicines, and distributors and pharmacies of ignoring red flags that prescriptions were being diverted into illegal trafficking. They said the resulting human toll, as well as strain on public health services and law enforcement, was a public nuisance that the companies must pay to fix. CVS, Walgreens and Walmart are the three largest U.S. retail pharmacies by market share. If their settlement becomes final, it will put much of the years-long litigation over opioids to rest, though cases are still pending against smaller, more regionally focused pharmacy operators including Rite Aid Corp. and Kroger Co.