CVS Becomes First Pharmacy Chain To Reach Opioid Settlement
CVS Health Corporation, the healthcare company that owns CVS Pharmacy, has announced it has settled lawsuits over how its role in prescribing powerful and addictive Opioids fueled the Opioid epidemic in the United States. The settlement, which would pay nearly $5 billion to state, local, and Native American Tribal governments over the next 10 years, makes CVS Health the first pharmacy chain to reach a nationwide settlement regarding the Opioid crisis.
The Rhode Island-based company made the announcement Wednesday while also sharing their better-than-expected quarterly earnings, which show the pharmacy giant brought in well over $81.16 billion in yearly profits. CVS Health did not admit liability or wrongdoing and said that non-financial terms remain to be resolved.
“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, the CVS chief policy officer, and 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.”
In addition to the settlements, the company says it has also launched educational programs and installed safe disposal boxes for drugs in both their stores and police departments across the country, as well as other harm reduction measures to help mitigate the misuse of Opioids.
Why The CVS Opioid Settlement Is Important
The CVS Health suit brings the nationwide total of finalized settlements to $45 billion. Due to the nature of the settlements, the majority of the money agreed upon must be used to directly address the Opioid crisis.
The Opioid epidemic is one of the nation’s largest public health crises, responsible for over 500,000 overdose deaths since 1999. This nationwide dependence on Opioids did not start on the streets or by way of back-alley drug deals, but rather by major pharmaceutical industries, drug wholesalers, and physicians who pushed Opioids upon the public by way of prescription painkillers.
“We saw this trend back in the 90’s; with an increased amount of Opioid prescribing that occurred amongst medical professionals,” says Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD, addiction medicine specialist. “And this was probably due to a lot of misleading marketing and studies that were embellished or magnified that did not show the true consequence of what could happen with long-term opioid abuse.”
As steps to mitigate the growing dependence on Opioids were taken, making these drugs harder to obtain, many people turned to illicit drugs like Heroin to satiate their addiction. Since 1999, the number of US adults with a substance use disorder to illicit drugs like Heroin has skyrocketed from around 104,000 to nearly 263,000 in 2019.
With so many people turning to illicit drugs, the rate of overdoses has also increased alarmingly in recent years. In 2021 alone, Opioid-related deaths exceeded 80,000, with nearly 89% of those involving Fentanyl; an incredibly dangerous drug that has become widespread in the nation’s drug supply.
While the $5 billion price tag may seem staggering, the CVS Health settlement represents only a fraction of the settlements that have been made in recent years.
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Other Notable Opioid Settlements
To date, there have been more than a dozen major Opioid settlements in the United States alone. The largest settlement, which involved four of the nation’s largest Opioid manufacturers and wholesalers; those being Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, was settled at $26 billion.
In that lawsuit, Johnson & Johnson, the consumer products and health giant that manufactures generic Opioid medications, was ordered to contribute $5 billion to the settlement. The other three massive drug wholesalers were ordered to pay the remaining $21 billion. In total, 46 states and roughly 90% of eligible local governments signed on to the deal, which was said to “directly support state and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis.”
Another major gain in the ongoing battle against those responsible for the Opioid epidemic was the settlement involving Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, and their owners: the Sackler family. The deal, which was agreed upon in March of 2022, was worth more than $10 billion and called for the members of the Sackler family to pay an additional $6 billion as well as remove themselves from the ownership of the company. While the settlement was widely recognized as a “win,” many were quick to criticize it (including some of those involved in bringing the suit) as they felt the Sackler family got off too easy.
Earlier this year Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $270 million in a settlement with Oklahoma, and in 2007 the company, along with some of its top executives, were ordered to pay $635 million following a lawsuit over “misleading marketing.”
Along with CVS, Walgreens, another of the nation’s largest retail pharmacies, and Walmart have both reached similar settlements this year and will pay $4.79 and $3 billion respectively.
Don’t Battle Opioid Addiction Alone
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to Opioids or other illicit substances, don’t wait any longer to get help. Settlements like the CVS Health suit help highlight the severity of the Opioid crisis and the importance of addiction treatment. If you’re ready to take the first step toward recovery, contact a treatment provider.