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Local News

Opioid lawsuit settlements bring $3 billion to Florida

walgreens
Charles Krupa/AP
/
AP
FILE - The Walgreens logo on the front of a store, July 14, 2021, in Cambridge, Mass. Trial opened Monday, April 11, 2022 in Florida’s opioid epidemic lawsuit against the Walgreens pharmacy chain, which state officials accuse of prioritizing profits over health by improperly dispensing millions of powerful painkillers that caused tens of thousands of deaths. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

The state of Florida will receive more than $680 million as part of an opioid settlement announced Thursday with Walgreens. Attorney General Ashley Moody made the announcement in Tallahassee on Thursday, praising her legal team.  

“There was a lot of skillful prosecution, late nights, early mornings, and seemingly unending legal work; and it was because of their hard work that we stand before you today, to make this historic announcement,” said

 The settlement comes after a four-week court battle with the retail pharmacy chain, over the company’s role in creating and fueling the opioid epidemic. She terms the settlement “a promise kept” to Floridians.

“Before taking office, I vowed to seek accountability from those who helped fuel the opioid crisis, said Moody. “As my work as a prosecutor, and as a judge, seeing the devastation first hand, I resigned to be an active player, and make sure that redress was afforded to our state and our citizens.”

After Florida inked $2.4 billion in settlements with other prescription drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies, Walgreens was the 12th and final defendant to settle with the state.

“In fact, Florida is the first state in the nation to successfully conclude litigation against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies,” Moody said. “This announcement brings the total funds secured, through all of our determined litigation efforts, to more than $3 billion for the state of Florida.”  

According to Moody, opioids are responsible for killing 21 Floridians each day. Walgreen’s admits no wrongdoing in the settlement.

“This is a fixable problem, if we get together; we know the solutions. It’s simply implementing them," said Dr. David Josephs, clinical director at Pensacola’s Lakeview Center, which treats addiction and mental health disorders.

He points to an article in the Pensacola News Journal, in which the Escambia Medical Examiner’s Office reports the fentanyl deaths of about 30 people in the Panhandle but, that represents a more than 400% increase.

“That’s just fentanyl. There are other opiates that kill people,” said Josephs. “So we are not doing well in the Panhandle. We are at the top of the list in terms of deaths, which is not where we want to be — we’re no different from nationally. For many years there’s been a push that we take pain medications, primarily opiates, to manage your pain. And of course, these medications are extremely addictive.”

The other issue, says Josephs, is stress and people not understanding the life-threatening impact of using opioids and overdosing on them. About 70% of the 100,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. are from opioids. He says that calls for shifting mental health focus to keeping people alive with what he calls “evidence-based practice.”

“We gotta have you around to do that,” he said. “Which means participation with hospitals, primary practitioners, participation particularly with ERs and jails where people go in addicted, and when they come out, it’s a great opportunity to stem that addiction and that potential for death.”

At this point, it’s not known how much of the money will be coming to Lakeview. But Josephs says it likely will be used for implementing more of what works, such as education.

“Understand the risk of themselves so that people can themselves seek out the appropriate health care,” said Josephs. “Residential treatment for people who have an addiction; medication and assisted treatment for addiction. Medications like suboxone and Narcan.”

But opioids are not going away. Josephs says when properly prescribed and closely monitored, they have value in certain medical treatments.

“Absolutely — opioids will remain, and should remain, a part of medical treatment,” he said. “But supervised and managed by your physician or your treatment provider. That’s really important.”

According to Attorney General Ashley Moody, opioids are responsible for killing 21 Floridians each day. Walgreen’s admits no wrongdoing in the settlement. The distribution of the money to Lakeshore and other such centers will be determined later; Moody said the $3 billion will be paid out over the next 20 years.

“And will be used to abate the opioid crisis and help families and communities heal throughout our state,” she added. “The funds will go to communities hit hardest by opioid abuse, and they will be spent on treatment and prevention. The funds will undoubtedly save the lives of Floridians.”

Filed in 2018, the lawsuits accused five of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and four distributors of causing the crisis. Moody’s office later named Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy as defendants.