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Maryland announces $238 million in new opioid settlements with Walgreens, Walmart, two drugmakers

Angela Roberts, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

Maryland’s top lawyer announced Wednesday afternoon that the state had reached settlements with Walgreens, Walmart and two opioid manufacturers that are expected to add $238 million to its efforts to fight the opioid crisis over the course of 15 years.

The settlements follow multi-year investigations of the roles of the opioid manufacturers and chain pharmacies in fueling Maryland’s opioid crisis, the Office of Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown said in a news release.

Along with forcing the companies to pay out, the settlements also mandate that they “stop engaging in practices that gave rise to the opioid crisis and take steps to prevent further illegal conduct,” the news release said.

There were 2,600 fatal overdoses in Maryland from November 2022 to October 2023, according to state data. Fentanyl – a highly potent form of opioid – was involved in 80% of these deaths.

“The opioid epidemic has claimed thousands of innocent lives through addiction and overdoses, has torn families apart, and has devastated communities across this country,” Brown said in the release. “This settlement money will help support recovery efforts in Maryland and prevent future loss where we need it most.”

All revenue from the settlements will be placed in the Maryland Opioid Restitution Fund and be spent on efforts to ease the crisis, the news release said.

 

Two years ago, pharmaceutical manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and the country’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors agreed to pay the state and most of its localities about $395 million over the course of 18 years. In exchange, the state absolved the companies of liability for illegally marketing and distributing opioids before the settlements.

One of the opioid manufacturers involved in the latest settlements — Teva, which is based in Israel — marketed and sold extremely dangerous and addictive rapid-onset fentanyl products, according to the news release, which cites documents filed Wednesday morning in Frederick County Circuit Court.

The products — Actiq, a fentanyl lozenge resembling a lollipop, and Fentora, a fentanyl tablet — were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only to treat extreme pain in patients with advanced cancers that are unlikely to be cured. However, the release said, the company falsely claimed the drugs were safe for non-cancer conditions and funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to at least 16 Maryland prescribers through a “bogus” speaker bureau.

This money, which the complaint describes as “kickbacks,” encouraged prescribers to write prescriptions for Actiq and Fentora for people who did not have cancer and should not have taken the drugs.

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