West Virginia was hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic and is looking to hold CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens pharmacies accountable for their roles in the state’s opioid epidemic.
On Tuesday, Walmart and CVS agreed to pay $147.5 million to settle the state’s claims. Walgreens did not agree to a settlement.
Walmart agreed to pay $65 million and CVS agreed to pay $82.5 million, however the state was prepared to go to trial against the two retail giants at the end of this week if a settlement was not reached. West Virginia will go to trial against Walgreens and Kroger in a trial rescheduled for June 2023.
Walgreens has resisted settling in similar suits across the US, and was the last defendant to settle in a lawsuit over Florida’s claims. Walgreens was the sole defendant to go to trial over San Francisco’s opioid claims, where the pharmacy chain was found liable and will be forced to pay a price to be determined in a future trial.
Some background on the West Virginia opioid trial
The state accused these major pharmacy chains of fueling the opioid epidemic through lax oversight of prescription medications sold to customers. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, West Virginia was hit disproportionately hard by the opioid crisis, with a per capita mortality rate over three times the national average.
While CVS did settle with West Virginia, CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said, “Our position remains that prescriptions are written by doctors, not pharmacists, and that opioid medications are made and marketed by manufacturers, not pharmacies.” CVS claims that it settled with the state of West Virginia because it believed “putting these claims behind us” was the right decision.
Litigation has reached pharmacies after major settlements with drugmakers and distributors over recent years. Over 3,300 lawsuits have been filed across the country against drugmakers, distributors, and pharmacies in hopes of finding some justice for the families that suffered because of the opioid crisis. Johnson & Johnson and three major drug distributors reached a $26 billion settlement over their liabilities.
Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS were found liable for their contribution to the opioid crisis in two different Ohio counties and were ordered to pay $650 million in that case. Settling a lawsuit out of court often reduces the liability damages significantly.
West Virginia remains hopeful that they will be able to hold all parties accountable for their roles in promoting the opioid epidemic. The state’s attorney general Patrick Morrisey said on Tuesday, “We believe we have a very strong case against Walgreens… we’re going to pursue that quite vigorously.”