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CVS, Walgreens Agree to Pay $10 Billion to Settle Opioid Lawsuits while CDC Updates its Guidelines for Doctors

The country's two largest pharmacy chains agree to each pay $5 billion to local governments and American Indian tribes to settle nationwide lawsuits over their role in the opioid crisis.
CVS, Walgreens Agree to Pay $10 Billion to Settle Opioid Lawsuits while CDC Updates its Guidelines for Doctors

Two of the largest U.S. pharmacy chains, CVS Health and Walgreen Co., announced agreements in principle Wednesday to pay about $5 billion each to settle lawsuits nationwide over the toll of opioids, and a lawyer said Walmart is in discussions for a deal, reports NPR.

Under the tentative plans, CVS would pay $4.9 billion to local governments and about $130 million to Native American tribes over a decade. Walgreens would pay $4.8 billion to governments and $155 million to tribes over 15 years. The exact amount depends on how many governments join the deals.

"We are pleased to resolve these longstanding claims and putting them behind us is in the best interest of all parties, as well as our customers, colleagues and shareholders," Thomas Moriarty, CVS chief policy officer and general counsel, said in a statement. "We are committed to working with states, municipalities and tribes, and will continue our own important initiatives to help reduce the illegitimate use of prescription opioids."

CVS and Walgreens announce opioid settlements totaling $10 billion (NPR)

Excerpt from NPR: Together, the developments amount to what could be the last round of huge settlements after years of litigation over the drug industry's role in an overdose crisis that has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades. In the lawsuits, governments said pharmacies filled prescriptions they should have flagged as inappropriate. The deals call for most of the funds from Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS and Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens to be used to fight the opioid crisis through such efforts as expanding treatment and support programs for people with addiction, along with providing overdose antidotes and launching prevention efforts. In a conference call with analysts Wednesday, CVS Health CEO Karen Lynch said the deal sprang from mediation discussions that started last month.
CVS Health said they had agreed to pay approximately $5 billion over 10 years to "resolve all opioid lawsuits and claims" against them by states and cities. Walgreens and Walmart have also agreed to settlements of at least $4 billion and $3 billion, according to a report by Bloomberg. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

In a related story from the Washington Post, responding to a backlash from pain patients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines Thursday that offer clinicians more flexibility in the way they prescribe opioids for short- and long-term pain.

"This guideline is really intended to be a mechanism to help patients and providers work together," Christopher Jones, acting director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in an interview Thursday. "We have leaned in on more principles, rather than thresholds."

CDC releases new, more flexible guidelines for prescribing opioids (Washington Post)

Excerpt from the Washington Post: The new recommendations eliminate numerical dose limits and caps on length of treatment for chronic pain patients that had been suggested in the landmark 2016 version of the agency’s advice, which was aimed at curbing the liberal use of the medication and controlling a rampaging opioid epidemic. Those guidelines cautioned doctors that commencing opioid therapy was a momentous decision for patients. Parts of that nonbinding document were widely misinterpreted, resulting in unintended harm to patients who were benefiting from use of opioids without much risk of addiction. Patients reported they were rapidly tapered off medication by doctors or saw their medication abruptly discontinued, the CDC acknowledged in the new document. Some insurers and pharmacies set rigid limits on duration of prescriptions or dropped patients altogether. The new 100 pages of guidance — which remain only recommendations for doctors, nurse practitioners and others authorized to prescribe opioids — emphasize returning the focus to the caregiver and patient deciding on the best course of treatment. 
Signage stands outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

According to the USA Today, the new guidance avoids strict figures on dosage and length of opioid prescriptions, recommends how and when to prescribe opioids, and describes harms and benefits. But the CDC emphasized the recommendations are voluntary and flexible and should not be used to support a one-size-fits-all policy.

Amid backlash, CDC's new opioid guidance aims to curb addiction and treat patients (USA Today)

Excerpt from USA Today: The original version was meant for primary care doctors who treat chronic pain patients but ended up being used by states, licensing boards, insurers, pharmacies and others to force millions of Americans to rapidly reduce or discontinue prescription opioids. Pain patient advocates said the update improves the original version that led to abrupt changes for 8 to 13 million Americans who take opioids to manage pain. But they said prescribers, insurers and others must adopt more nuanced policies to avoid harms such as addiction, suicide and diminishing quality of life." The CDC is sending a pretty strong message to all payers, states and health systems that they need to reverse course, that they misapplied the 2016 guideline and they need to change because they're causing harm," said Kate Nicholson, executive director and founder of the National Pain Advocacy Center.
Pill Man, a skeleton made from Frank Huntley's oxycontin and methadone prescription bottles, is seen on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House August 30, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

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