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US pharmacy giants CVS Health and Walgreen agree to $US5 billion opioid settlements

The two largest pharmacy chains in the US, CVS Health and Walgreen Co, have announced in-principle agreements to pay about $US5 billion ($7.87 billion) each to settle nationwide lawsuits over the toll of opioids.

And a third pharmacy behemoth, Walmart, is in discussions for a deal, according to a lawyer.

The prospective settlements are part of a shift in the legal landscape surrounding the nation’s 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 pharmaceutical 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 $US50 billion, with most of it required to be used by state and local governments to combat opioid misuse, which has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the US over the past two decades.

Neither CVS nor Walgreens is admitting wrongdoing.

‘One more culprit of the overdose crisis’

“It’s one more culprit of the overdose crisis that is having to pay their dues,” Courtney Gary-Allen, organising director of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, said.

“Average Americans have been paying it for a long time.”

Ms Gary-Allen, who is a member of a council that will help determine how Maine uses its opioid-settlement funds, said more money to address the problem would help.

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