Shane Richards, Class of 2023, Belmont Law
Within the past few weeks, major cases involving CVS, Walgreens, Teva, and Walmart, years of litigation, are finally coming to a close. The result: a total of $17 billion in settlement. Teva Pharmaceuticals agreed to settle claims concerning its role in fueling the opioid crisis for $4.2 billion, with an additional $523 million to settle New York specific claims. CVS agreed to pay $5 billion. Walgreens will pay $5.7 billion and Walmart will pony up $3.1 billion. This settlement would be the first one to deal with nationwide retail pharmacy companies. A large portion of this money will go directly to combatting the opioid crisis, alongside other funds recovered in the many similar lawsuits across the country.
These lawsuits and their subsequent settlements have come as the opioid crisis worsened due to the pandemic, with the number of overdoses since 1999 reaching over 650,000. It is not surprising that increasingly immense feelings of hopelessness coupled with being forced indoors for months would lead to an increase in drug use. However, the problem has been made even worse with fentanyl becoming more and more commonplace. This past October, a congressional report found the economic toll of the opioid crisis to be about $1.5 trillion in 2020 alone. Clearly, the situation has not improved and recent events have only made it worse.
Who is to blame for this problem? What is the cause of the crisis? The answer to this question is not simple. It is the definition of multi-faceted problem, from well-meaning doctors overprescribing opioid medication to profit motivated pharmaceutical companies seeking increased sales. One of the several causes comes in the form of careless pharmacies not exercising their due diligence to control the distribution of these drugs. Such loose practices by pharmacies have ignored obvious red flags, allowing these drugs to be diverted into the illicit drug trade. The above-described lawsuits were aimed precisely at dealing with this source of the problem. These lawsuits alleged that major pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens were partially responsible by exercising “reckless, profit-driven dispensing practices,” creating a “public nuisance” for which they need to pay.
Quite frankly, such consequences are long overdue. It is about time that any actor or entity partially responsible for the opioid crisis face serious consequences. This issue has been dragging on for decades. Entire sections of this country are suffering from it. Everyone knows it is a problem even if not everyone is totally familiar with it. It also is not a secret that a major supplier of these drugs are pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, it is not a secret that health care providers and pharmacists play a role in perpetuating this crisis, whether it be by rouge actors taking advantage of the system for personal gain or by incompetence. These actors and companies need to be held accountable for their role in this crisis and, generally speaking, the only way to get a company to pay attention is to hit it where it hurts: its wallet.
Specifically concerning pharmacies, it is not sure exactly how strongly these companies will feel these consequences. First, these settlements come with the caveat that the offending companies may pay these settlements over the course of several years. Second, the yearly net revenues of these companies far and away exceed the amount settling these cases. Nonetheless, it is hoped that these billions of dollars these companies are being forced to spit out will cause them to correct course, in fear that similar suits could happen again. Perhaps, the current trend of lawsuits will help to correct the course with how pharmacies conduct themselves in the face of the crisis, but it ultimately remains to be seen.
Works Cited: https://today.westlaw.com/Document/I0115a6a05a9011eda1339568dfe0149e/View/FullText.html?productData=categoryPageUrl%3AHome%2FWestlawToday%2FWestlawTodayHealthLaw&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default https://today.westlaw.com/Document/I316e9ca05b7411ed8e7e95fef8071348/View/FullText.html?productData=categoryPageUrl%3aHome%2fWestlawToday%2fWestlawTodayHealthLaw&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default&firstPage=true&OWSessionId=067bad54b22642dcb96dbbc773c9094e&skipAnonymous=true&bhcp=1 https://www.popsci.com/health/walgreens-cvs-opioid-crisis/ https://www.popsci.com/story/health/cdc-drug-overdose-increase-covid-19-pandemic/ https://hellogiggles.com/news/politics/how-opioid-epidemic-began/#:~:text=Andrew%20Hauput%2C%20Ammon%E2%80%99s%20Head%20of%20Product%20and%20Marketing%2C,media%2C%20see%20and%20talk%20about%20addiction%20and%20addicts. https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/WMT/walmart/net-profit-margin#:~:text=Walmart%20Net%20Profit%20Margin%20Historical%20Data%20%20,%20%201.40%25%20%2048%20more%20rows%20 https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/CVS/cvs-health/net-profit-margin#:~:text=CVS%20Health%20Net%20Profit%20Margin%20Historical%20Data%20,%20%202.71%25%20%2048%20more%20rows%20 https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/WBA/walgreens/net-profit-margin#:~:text=Walgreens%20Net%20Profit%20Margin%20Historical%20Data%20%20,%20%204.76%25%20%2048%20more%20rows%20