Monday, April 10, 2023

Schuyler County in line to receive $362,000 opioid settlement

Three national pharmacy chains—CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart--will pay Schuyler County up to $362,000 to settle claims the companies contributed to the ongoing opioid crisis in that county, under a settlement agreement to be voted on by the Schuyler County Legislature at its April meeting.


On Monday (March 27), the county’s Management and Finance Committee, chaired by Watkins Glen legislator Phillip Barnes, voted to recommend the settlement and authorized Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman to execute the necessary legal documents upon approval by the Schuyler County Legislature.  The legislature will consider the measure on Monday (April 10).


The county is estimated to receive $125,031 from CVS, $158,486 from Walgreens and $79,038 from Walmart, Getman said.


According to Getman, the three companies all agreed to the settlement with the county as a part of a nationwide agreement to resolve all opioid litigation brought by states and local political subdivisions, including a pending lawsuit filed by the county, as well as later claims brought by the New York State Attorney General’s office. The agreement calls for the three chains to pay the county over the next fifteen years, with payments expected to begin in late 2023. 


Getman said that the settlement funds can be used for a variety of purposes.


“Potential uses include treating opioid addiction, law enforcement expenditures, funding social services and similar anti-drug efforts,” Getman explained.

The proposed settlement also orders the companies to implement changes to prevent fraudulent prescriptions, Getman noted.  Those changes include the companies addressing their compliance structures, pharmacist judgment, diversion prevention, suspicious order monitoring, and reporting on blocked and potentially problematic prescribers.

If approved, the agreement would be one of several opioid settlements Schuyler County has been a part of over the past five years.  In 2021, the county legislature authorized Getman to accept up to $121,000 from Johnson & Johnson and up to $546,000 from distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc. and Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation to treat, reduce and prevent opioid abuse.  A similar agreement, for $41,000, was obtained from defendant Actavis, Inc. in early 2022.  In January, the county legislature authorized Getman to accept up to $116,000 from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. 


If these latest agreements are approved, the county will be in line to receive nearly $1.2 million total to date for opioid prevention and remediation.


“One cannot put a price on lives lost and families torn apart,” Getman said, “but with nearly $1.2 million expected to be delivered to Schuyler County, we can provide our community with financial assistance to continue this battle and hold these companies responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic.”


The settlements stem from a 2018 lawsuit the county filed against approximately thirty defendants, including some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry. The lawsuit alleged the defendants had long known that opioids were addictive and subject to abuse, particularly when used long-term for chronic non-cancer pain, and should not be used except as a last-resort. However, the lawsuit stated, the defendants spent hundreds of millions of dollars disseminating scientific materials and advertising that misrepresented the risks of  long-term opioid use.


Schuyler County was one of many local governments that filed lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least 14 counties across New York sued the pharmaceutical companies for fraudulent marketing practices.


After the counties sued, in March 2019, the New York State Attorney General’s office brought its own lawsuit on behalf of the state.   In 2021, Attorney General Letitia James championed legislation to create an opioid settlement fund and in 2022 she announced a tentative deal with CVS, Walgreens and Walmart that she says will deliver over $13 Billion for communities nationwide to combat the opioid crisis.


Schuyler County’s lawsuit against other defendants remains pending, Getman said, with the possibility of more settlements and additional funding to the county still to come.  


The three companies involved in the latest proposed agreement have each issued their own statements denying liability and supporting settlement.


Resolution No. 21 (Intro), ... by Steven Getman