The two largest US pharmacy chains, CVS Health and Walgreen Co., announced agreements in principle on Wednesday to pay about $5 billion each to settle lawsuits nationwide over the toll of opioids, and a lawyer said Walmart, a third pharmacy behemoth, is in discussions for a deal.
The prospective settlements are part of a shift in the legal landscape surrounding the opioid epidemic.
Instead of suspense over whether companies in the drug industry would be held to account through trials or settlements, the big question is now how their money will be used and whether it will make a difference in fighting a crisis that has only intensified.
The deals, if completed, would end thousands of lawsuits in which governments claimed pharmacies filled prescriptions they should have flagged as inappropriate.
With settlements already proposed or finalised between some of the biggest drug makers and distribution companies, the recent developments could be the among the last multi-billion dollar settlements to be announced.
They also would bring the total value of all settlements to more than $50 billion, with most of it required to be used by state and local governments to combat opioids,which have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the US over the last two decades.
Neither Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS nor Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens is admitting wrongdoing.
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