CVS, Walmart, Walgreens agree to pay $13.8 bln over opioid crisis

STORY: The three biggest retail pharmacies in the U.S. - CVS Health, Walgreens and Walmart - agreed to pay a combined $13.8 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits accusing them of mishandling opioid painkillers, the first nationwide deal with retail pharmacy chains over the epidemic.

A lawyer for CVS said the company was pleased to resolve the claims and that the deal was "in the best interest of all parties."

Meanwhile, Walgreens said it will defend itself vigorously against any future lawsuits not covered by the settlement.

Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

Both CVS and Walgreens said their agreements would not be final until certain non-monetary terms were worked out.

If their settlement becomes final, it will put much of the sprawling, years-long litigation over opioids to rest, though cases are still pending against smaller, more regionally focused pharmacy operators including Rite Aid and Kroger.

Paul Geller, one of the lawyers who negotiated for the state and local governments, said the settlements "will bring billions of additional dollars to communities that are desperate for funds to combat the epidemic," which according to federal government data has caused nearly 650,000 overdose deaths since 1999 and is continuing to worsen.

Geller added that pharmacies can be part of the solution going forward, saying:

"We know that reckless, profit-driven dispensing practices fueled the crisis; but we know just as surely that with better systems in place and proper heeding of red flag warnings, pharmacies can play a direct role in reducing opioid abuse and in saving lives."