Rite Aid reaches opioid litigation ceasefire in $10.5 million settlement

Pedestrian passes a sign for a Rite Aid pharmacy in Somerville
A pedestrian passes a sign for a Rite Aid pharmacy in Somerville, Massachusetts, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
  • Rite Aid settles with counties in Georgia, Ohio and North Carolina
  • Deal comes ahead of bellwether trials

(Reuters) - Rite Aid Corp has inked a $10.5 million settlement with counties in three states allowing it to sit out the next wave of trials stemming from the opioid epidemic in the U.S., which are slated to begin against national pharmacy chains next year.

Rite Aid will pay $3.5 million each to Georgia's Cobb County, North Carolina's Durham County and Ohio's Montgomery County, exiting all scheduled opioid trials in which it is a defendant, according to settlement documents posted online on Tuesday by Cobb County.

Rite Aid, which did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Representatives for Durham County could not immediately be reached for comment.

Joe Rice, an attorney for Montgomery County, Ohio, confirmed the settlement and said the deal was contingent on Rite Aid's continued pursuit of insurance coverage for opioid lawsuits.

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved the deal at a Tuesday meeting.

Missy Owen, co-founder of an addiction recovery organization called the Davis Direction Foundation, spoke up in support of the settlement.

"It is time to put the litigation behind us and begin focusing on the real task at hand - saving lives," Owen said Tuesday.

State and local governments have filed thousands of lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains, accusing them of fueling the deadly opioid epidemic in the U.S. through deceptive marketing, oversupply and lax oversight of suspicious prescriptions. The opioid epidemic caused more than 80,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2021, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lawsuits were consolidated in 2017 in multidistrict litigation in Cleveland, Ohio, before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster and bellwether trials have been conducted in Ohio, California and West Virginia.

Cobb County said in a Tuesday statement that it expects to proceed to trial in 2023 against other defendants, including Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc, CVS Health Corp and Walmart Inc.

The opioid litigation has resulted in major settlements with drug distributors and manufacturers, including a $26 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson, McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp, and Cardinal Health Inc.

The next wave of bellwether trials in the federal litigation will focus on pharmacy defendants. Pharmacies face new opioid lawsuits and investigations as well - Utah's Attorney General filed a complaint against Walgreens, Rite Aid and Kroger on July 2, and Texas' Attorney General announced an investigation into Walmart's opioid dispensing practices on June 28.

Florida is the only U.S. state to reach a comprehensive opioid settlement with pharmacy chains so far.

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