(Reuters) — CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Walmart Inc. have agreed to pay about $13.8 billion to settle thousands of state, local and tribal lawsuits accusing the pharmacy chains of mishandling opioid painkillers.
CVS said Wednesday it had agreed to pay about $5 billion over 10 years, and Walgreens disclosed in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that it had agreed to pay about $5.7 billion over 15 years. Neither company admitted wrongdoing. Walmart has agreed to pay $3.1 billion, mostly up front, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Paul Geller, one of the lawyers who negotiated for the governments, said settlements with dispensaries “will provide billions of additional dollars to communities desperate for money to fight the epidemic”; of opioid addiction.
CVS General Counsel Thomas Moriarty said in a statement that the company was pleased to settle the claims and the deal was “in the best interests of all parties, as well as our customers, colleagues and shareholders.”
Walgreens said in its SEC filing that it “continues to believe it has strong legal defenses” and will defend itself vigorously against any future lawsuits not covered by the settlement.
Both CVS and Walgreens said their agreements would not be final until certain non-monetary terms are worked out, and that the total amount could be reduced if not enough government plaintiffs sign on.
Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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, which began in 2017, state and local governments accused drugmakers of downplaying the risks of their opioid pain medications, and distributors and pharmacies of ignoring red flags that prescriptions were being diverted into illegal trade.
They said the resulting human toll, as well as the strain on public health services and law enforcement, was a public nuisance that the companies had to pay to fix.
CVS, Walgreens and Walmart are the three largest retail pharmacies in the country by market share. If their settlement becomes final, it will put to rest much of the sprawling, years-long opioid litigation, although cases are still pending against smaller, more regionally focused pharmacy operators including Rite Aid Corp. and Kroger Co.