The Kroger Co., one of the largest grocery chains in the United States, has become the latest company to settle lawsuits regarding the nation’s opioid crisis. The company revealed on Friday that it has agreed to pay up to $1.4 billion over the span of 11 years.
This staggering sum will be dispersed across various areas affected by the crisis, with up to $1.2 billion being allocated to state and local governments in areas where Kroger operates. Native American tribes will receive $36 million, and approximately $177 million has been set aside to account for lawyers’ fees and accompanying costs.
Presently, Kroger has retail locations in 35 states, excluding the Northeast, the northern plains, and Hawaii. A total of 33 states will be counted amongst those benefitting from the settlement’s financial apportionment. Kroger had previously announced settlements with New Mexico and West Virginia.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers, wholesalers, consultants, and pharmacies have over the course of the last eight years proposed or finalized opioid settlements that collectively total upwards of $50 billion. This includes a minimum of 12 other settlements each valued at over one billion dollars.
The settlement finances are largely targeted towards the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic linked to 80,000 plus deaths annually in the United States in recent years. This death toll is predominantly associated with illegal synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, as opposed to legally-prescribed painkillers.
Jayne Conroy, a government lawyer spearheading the lawsuits against the companies responsible, highlighted the vital role these companies should play in finding solutions to the crisis. Speaking to The Associated Press, Conroy rationalized, “The problem is the massive amount of addiction. That addiction stems from the massive amount of prescription drugs.”
As part of the settlement, the companies have consented to modify their business practices concerning potent prescription painkillers. This includes imposing restrictions on marketing methods and using data to identify and counteract overprescribing. Although the details of these non-economic agreements for Kroger have not been finalized, they will mirror those other companies have agreed to.
Kroger is soon planning to finalize this landmark agreement in its efforts to resolve opioid lawsuits, scheduling initial payments for December. The company will not confirm any wrongdoing or liability as part of the deal. Instead, Kroger highlighted its ongoing commitment to patient safety and combating opioid abuse.
Nevertheless, opioid-related lawsuits are far from over. Preparations are underway for trials against supermarket chains Publix and Albertsons (which is attempting a merger with Kroger) and pharmacy benefit managers like Express Scripts and OptumRx, who likewise face government claims related to opioids.