Texas has joined a multibillion-dollar, multistate opioid settlement with CVS Pharmacy – the latest development in numerous lawsuits regarding the roles of manufacturers, distributors and consultants in the opioid crisis.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Wednesday that the state is signing on to a $5 billion settlement with the retail giant, which was accused of inadequately monitoring opioid prescriptions. If other state, municipal and tribal governments accept, Texas could receive more than $276 million.
Paxton’s statement does not mention how this money would be spent.
“Millions of Americans have died or are sick due to the opioid epidemic. While significant work remains, a broad coalition of states reached certain terms with CVS, and we are hopeful that we will be able to reach a final agreement on all terms,” he said in a press release.
CVS said in a press release that this is not an admission of wrongdoing and that it would continue fighting any claims not resolved by this tentative agreement.
“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,” Thomas Moriarty, CVS Health’s chief policy officer and general counsel, said in the press release.
Texas has been a part of multiple nationwide opioid settlements since 2020 with major pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors including Mallinckrodt, Allergan, Endo, Johnson & Johnson, Teva, Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen, as well as consulting giant McKinsey & Co. These deals have brought Texas billions of dollars.
Besides CVS, Bloomberg News reported that retail giants like Walgreens and Walmart have also reached proposed opioid settlements worth around $5 billion and $3 billion, respectively.
On the ground, the opioid crisis has continued to ravage communities across the country since former President Donald Trump declared it a national emergency in 2017. In particular, the national number of overdose deaths rose to a record high of 107,000 in 2021.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 4,800 Texans died from overdoses between April 2021 and April 2022 – a more than 60% jump in deaths over the past three years. And this figure is likely to be a vast undercount because most counties in the state don’t regularly perform toxicology tests due to financial constraints.
Over the past few months, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has also put a spotlight on the issue – particularly around fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is now driving most of the overdoses in the U.S.
Abbott, who has long favored border security and policing over harm reduction as solutions to the crisis, ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to ramp up its efforts to combat drug cartels, saying they are smuggling high volumes of fentanyl into the state. He similarly asked other state agencies to outline how they could step up their responses to the crisis ahead of the 2023 legislative session.
But in October, he also said the state should finance the distribution of Narcan, months after the state’s federally funded program to deliver a proven drug that reverses opioid overdoses ran out of money due to high demand.
“We’ll need to look for the areas where fentanyl is found most predominantly and make sure Narcan is easily available there,” Abbott said at a press conference.
Texans seeking help for substance use can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free help line at 800-662-4357. They can also access services available in their region through the Texas Health and Human Services website.