Oregon reaches $173 million settlement with pharmacy companies in opioid lawsuit

This article was originally published by Oregon Capital Chronicle.

Oregon will receive as much as $173 million to prevent and treat addiction and substance use disorder as part of three national settlements with pharmacy chains involved in the opioid epidemic, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said Monday.

Oregon’s share comes from $13.7 billion in three national settlements Rosenblum and other attorneys general have reached since November with Walmart, CVS and Walgreens. CVS and Walgreens, the two largest pharmacy chains in the United States, reached national agreements totaling $10.7 billion, Rosenblum said. Walmart agreed to a national $3 billion settlement in November.

The settlements end another legal chapter in the opioid epidemic that has shattered lives from rural Oregon to urban Portland. Hundreds of Oregonians die every year from opioid overdoses – and the figure has continued to increase. In 2019, there were 280 unintentional opioid overdose deaths in Oregon. In 2020, the deaths totaled 472. And in 2021, 745 Oregonians died from opioid overdoses.

“Pharmacies were a key link in the supply chain that contributed to the greatest drug-induced public health crisis in modern America,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “This may seem like a lot of money – and it is –  but compared to the harm caused by America’s largest pharmacy chains, it barely scratches the surface.” 

Under the agreement, 55% of the money will go to 81 Oregon cities and counties with a population greater than 10,000, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Justice said. The state’s remaining 45% will fall under the control of the Opioid Settlement Prevention Treatment and Recovery Board for statewide efforts and programs including outreach, training and screenings.

Signatures required

Under the agreements, CVS will pay $5 billion, Walgreens will pay $5.7 billion and Walmart will pay $3 billion. States will have to sign on to the agreements to obtain the full amounts. Oregon counties and cities also have to sign the settlements for the state to qualify for the full amount. A similar process played out in 2021, when Oregon reached a $329 million settlement with opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and three pharmaceutical distributors: McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. In that case, all Oregon cities and counties signed the agreement, Rosenblum said.

“Too many have died and too many families are broken by virtue of – plain and simple – corporate greed, and that includes pharmacies,” Rosenblum said in her statement. “Americans place their trust in their pharmacy and certainly do not expect it to cause them harm. I appreciate that 100% of Oregon’s counties and cities signed on to our previous settlements with Johnson & Johnson and the three major opioid distributors. I hope they will sign on to these settlements, as well, in order to maximize how much Oregon can receive.”

As part of the agreement, the pharmacy companies agreed to monitor, report and share data about suspicious activity tied to opioid prescriptions.

States will have until the end of this year to review and join the agreements. From there, the three companies will go to local governments across the country to get their sign-on during the first quarter of 2023. 

Payments could start as soon as the second half of 2023.

Most of Walmart’s amount will be paid in the first year. The CVS payments will spread across a 10-year period and the Walgreens’ payments will cover a 15-year period.

In March, Oregon also reached a $97 million settlement with Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family as part of a $6 billion national agreement.That came after states accused the company of deceptive marketing tactics that targeted Oregon seniors who use painkiller OxyContin, downplaying the risks of the drug.

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