TAMPA — Attorney General Ashley Moody announced a $683 million settlement with Walgreens on Thursday after the state’s lawyers argued the pharmacy chain contributed to the opioid epidemic in Florida by “unconscionably” dispensing enormous quantities of painkillers.
The settlement calls for $620 million to be paid over 18 years to fund community treatment, education and prevention programs, according to a copy of the agreement. Another $63 million will cover litigation costs.
“The funds will undoubtedly save the lives of Floridians,” Moody said.
Walgreens said in a statement that it did not admit to any wrongdoing by settling the case.
“As the largest pharmacy chain in the state, we remain focused on and committed to being part of the solution, and believe this resolution is in the best interest of all parties involved and the communities we serve across Florida,” said Danielle Gray, executive vice president and global chief legal officer for the overarching Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.
Walgreens had 820 locations in Florida as of 2020.
The agreement ends a trial that began April 11 in Pasco County, part of Florida wracked by the opioid epidemic. Pasco suffered the state’s highest drug overdose death rate from 2004 through 2012, the state’s lawyers wrote in their complaint. The district that includes Pasco and neighboring Pinellas, the lawyers said, had Florida’s highest number of oxycodone deaths per capita in 2016.
Cities, counties and states have pursued cases against drug makers and distributors all over the country, seeking to recoup at least some of what they say they have lost to the opioid scourge.
They blame manufacturers and pharmacists for flooding America with painkillers like OxyContin, fueling debilitating addictions.
Moody said a recent estimate shows that 21 people die every day in Florida because of opioid abuse. The state reported nearly 6,100 opioid deaths in 2020, according to medical examiners’ data.
Florida accused Walgreens and other companies, including CVS and Purdue Pharma, of using “misleading marketing” and distributing opioids “in quantities that could not possibly have been medically justified,” according to the lawsuit. “They recorded multibillion-dollar profits as a result.”
Peter Mougey, a Pensacola lawyer who represents local governments across the country in opioid litigation, said Florida is the first state to settle cases against companies like Walgreens based on how those businesses dispensed opioids.
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Before Walgreens, the state reached settlements with several other outfits, including more than $870 million from CVS Health Corp., CVS Pharmacy Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and Allergan PLC, according to Moody’s office. Florida was also part of a national settlement with McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Johnson & Johnson Inc., under which it is set to receive about $1.6 billion. It could get money as part of a national bankruptcy plan filed by Purdue Pharma, too.
All told, the state will get more than $3 billion from the opioid lawsuits, the attorney general’s office said.
A portion of the money will go to local governments, which will have some control over how it gets spent, Moody said. But a separate agreement requires that the funding help fight addiction.
Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White said he has been told settlement money will start flowing in June or July. Unincorporated Hillsborough’s portion of the Walgreens sum, he said, could reach $6.6 million over the next couple of decades, with an unspecified additional amount coming from a regional pool.
White said he hopes to expand work already underway by groups like the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance. No settlement will make up for the deaths caused by the opioid epidemic, he said, “but we can put this money to good use to save future lives.”
Hundreds of millions of dollars may seem like a lot, but it is a fraction of the yearly state budget and a fraction of the profits that drug and pharmacy companies made by selling opioids, said Elizabeth Chiarello, a Saint Louis University professor who has researched narcotics policies and teaches a medical sociology course.
Still, she said, the settlements could make a difference if community leaders use them to expand programs that give people struggling with addiction access to medications, like methadone, while also changing their approach from “demonizing” drugs to improving wages and health insurance affordability and racial equity.
“If we just feed the money into those same systems,” she said, “we’re going to get the same outcome that we already have.”
Times staff writers Jamal Thalji and Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.