CVS has tentatively agreed to pay $5 billion to settle lawsuits filed by states and local governments alleging the retailers mishandled prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
Two other major retailers — Walgreens and Walmart — have so far agreed to pay billions of dollars to settle similar lawsuits, according to reports from Bloomberg and Reuters.
The deal calls for Walgreens to pay at least $4 billion and Walmart to pay $3 billion, Bloomberg reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
The deal will not be finalized until enough states, counties and cities agree on the terms, Bloomberg said.
CNN has contacted the companies for comment.
CVS said that if the settlement is reached, it will pay the states over 10 years starting in 2023.
“We are pleased to resolve these long-standing claims and putting them behind us is in the best interests of all parties, as well as our customers, colleagues and shareholders,” Thomas Moriarty, CVS’ general counsel, said in a statement. “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.”
US states, cities and counties have filed more than 3,000 lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, accusing them of downplaying addiction risks and failing to stop pills from being diverted for illegal use.
More than 500,000 overdose deaths over the past two decades — including more than 80,000 in 2021 alone — are blamed on the U.S. opioid crisis, government data show, with an estimated 9.5 million Americans age 12 and older reported in 2020 to have abused opioids, including 9.3 million prescription painkiller abusers and 902,000 heroin abusers.
Meanwhile, synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl, caused nearly two-thirds of the more than 100,000 overdose deaths in the United States in the 12-month period ending in April 2021 — a 49% increase from the previous year — the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found.
Opioids are drugs formulated to replicate the pain-relieving properties of opium and include prescription pain relievers such as morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone and illegal drugs such as heroin and illegally made fentanyl.
People who become addicted to opioids may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it, and addiction is often combined with tolerance, meaning users must take increasingly large doses for the same effect.
A federal judge in August ruled that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart must pay a combined $650.6 million to two Ohio counties for damages related to the opioid crisis. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2018 as part of federal multi-district litigation created that year to address the multiple claims against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced in July a proposed $4.35 billion nationwide settlement that could resolve thousands of lawsuits over the drugmaker’s alleged role in the U.S. opioid epidemic.
Purdue Pharma — whose painkiller OxyContin has been widely blamed for starting the opioid crisis — and the Sackler families announced in March a settlement with a group of states that would require the Sacklers to pay out as much as $6 billion to states, individual claimants and the opioid . bankruptcy relief, if approved by a federal bankruptcy court.
And Johnson & Johnson and the three biggest US drug distributors – McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp – finalized a $26 billion nationwide opioid settlement in February.