Florida Attorney General, Ashley Moody, announced that the state has reached a settlement agreement with Walgreens Co. over the drug-store chain’s alleged role in contributing to the opioid epidemic. The $683 million agreement was announced May 5, nearly one month into a jury trial that began April 11 in Pasco County outside of Tampa, one of the state’s hardest-hit regions.
Out of more than a dozen opioid manufacturers, retailers or distributors, Walgreens was the only defendant not to settle before the trial started. Florida reached settlement agreements with the other defendants totaling $2.4 billion before the deal with Walgreens was announced.
State officials from around the country accused Walgreens of improperly filling millions of opioid prescriptions that are linked to over 500,000 deaths from 1999 to 2020, including more than 39,000 in the state of Florida during that time. Moody claimed that the opioid crisis kills 21 Floridians every day.
In opening arguments, Florida’s prosecution team claimed that Walgreens dispensed over four billion opioid pills from 2006 to 2021, and more than half of these prescriptions “contained one or more easily recognized red flags for abuse, fraud and addiction that the company should have noticed and acted upon,” according to U.S. News & World Report.
Jim Webster, an attorney for the state, said in his opening statement, “The evidence will show Walgreens knowingly profited from the opioid crisis.” Webster added, “Walgreens wasn't just greedy. It was fueling the opioid crisis that was killing people.”
Webster noted that Walgreens was responsible for selling approximately one-quarter of the opioids dispensed in the state from 1999 to 2020. Those prescriptions, he argued, were filled under dubious conditions, such as obvious, exceedingly high dosages and forged prescriptions.
“After four weeks of the state putting on, under oath, into evidence, how Walgreens played a role in this epidemic, toward the end of our case, the white flag was raised, and we were able to begin negotiations in a productive manner. Today is a culmination of that trial,” Moody told reporters at a Tampa news conference, per CLTampa.com.
The state of Florida has spent over $14 billion in opioid-related costs. The settlement calls for Walgreens to pay $620 million to the state over 18 years, and to make a one-time payment of $63 million for attorneys’ fees.
Under terms of the settlement, Walgreens, which has over 9,000 locations nationwide, including over 800 in Florida, will not have to admit to any wrongdoing or liability.
Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson, the largest healthcare company in the world, along with the nation’s top three drug distributors—AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson—finalized a $26 billion opioid settlement with U.S. states and municipalities.