CVS and Walgreens face $17.3B bill for fueling opioid epidemic

June 12, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The corporate trio of Teva Pharmaceuticals, CVS, and Walgreens have settled with prosecutors that will hold them accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.

Attorney General Letitia James announced on Friday the final national settlement agreements with Teva Pharmaceuticals, CVS, and Walgreens, who agreed to pay $17.3 billion, including over $1 billion to New York state, marking a significant milestone in the ongoing battle against the opioid epidemic.

“No amount of money will bring back the lives lost to opioids, but these funds will help heal New York,” said Attorney General James. “For years, Teva, CVS, and Walgreens peddled deadly opioids and today’s historic agreements hold these companies accountable for their role in this public health crisis. These funds will help with opioid abatement, education, and treatment efforts in our communities.”

While these corporate entities may have capitalized on the addiction crisis, the wheels of justice have gradually caught up. Teva, CVS, and Walgreens have for years been involved in the peddling of lethal opioids, contributing to a public health crisis that has taken a heavy toll on lives and families.

The settlement funds — negotiated meticulously by Attorney General James and the corporations involved — include $523 million from Teva Pharmaceuticals and over $548 million from CVS and Walgreens. These settlements contribute to the over $2.6 billion recovered from opioid manufacturers, distributors, and prescribers to support opioid abatement, treatment, and prevention efforts in New York.

The agreements do not simply stop at monetary compensation. Moving forward, they require Teva to operate under a monitor, prohibit all opioid marketing, and enforce systems to prevent drug misuse. CVS and Walgreens, meanwhile, are now obligated to monitor, report, and share data concerning suspicious activity related to opioid prescriptions.

The opioid crisis has wreaked havoc across the United States, and the state of New York, including New York City, has not been spared. As a nationwide public health emergency declared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in October 2017, this crisis resulted in the loss of over 70,000 lives that year, nearly 4,000 of them New Yorkers, according to the Comptroller’s Office. The situation has escalated in the years since, and driven further by the COVID-19 pandemic, and by 2021 the number of deaths rose to around 107,000 nationally and more than 5,800 in New York.

Opioids have been at the heart of this crisis, accounting for 85% of all drug overdose deaths in New York in 2020, a staggering 300% rise from 2010. In 2021, about 30 out of every 100,000 New Yorkers died from drug overdoses, 25 per 100,000 from opioid overdoses, a sharp contrast to the 5 per 100,000 in 2010.

In New York City alone, 2,668 individuals died from a drug overdose in 2021, an increase of 78% since 2019 and 27% from 2020, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Racial and geographic disparities in overdose deaths have widened, with Black New Yorkers and Bronx residents having the highest rates of overdose deaths.

Attorney General James’ historic lawsuit was filed in March 2019 and sought to hold various opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for their roles in the crisis.

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