CVS to pay Alaska $10M in settlement for role in opioid crisis

CVS pharmacy in Anchorage. (Rachel Cassandra/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska reached a settlement with CVS on March 7, for the role the company played in the opioid crisis in the state. CVS settled the complaint and did not admit wrongdoing. Once the settlement is final, the state will receive $10 million over 10 years. 

The complaint alleges CVS didn’t thoroughly check whether opioid prescriptions were legitimate during the peak of the prescription crisis. According to the state’s press release, over seven years starting in 2010, there were enough opioid prescriptions filled in the state to provide every Alaskan with over 400 pills. 

In a statement, Attorney General Treg Taylor said pharmacies in the state should have recognized problems with those numbers. 

“That’s a ridiculous number,” said Taylor. “And it is our belief that these numbers alone should have put these pharmacies and distributors on notice that there were way too many opioids flooding the Alaskan market.”

During the first wave of the opioid crisis, many prescriptions were diverted to the black market and sold illegally. Pharmacies like CVS are a last defense against illegal distribution. Pharmacists are supposed to watch out for red flags like one person filling opioid prescriptions from multiple doctors, or opioid prescriptions from out-of-state. The complaint alleges CVS didn’t have good systems in place for identifying red flags and that the company didn’t give their pharmacists enough time and resources to be able to investigate those red flags. 

According to the complaint, “The sheer volume of diverted opioids has wreaked havoc throughout the State of Alaska.” Between 1999 and 2014, opioid prescriptions in the country quadrupled. And Alaska is now dealing with a heroin and fentanyl crisis that emerged from the prescription opioid crisis. Some 220 Alaskans died of opioid overdose last year. 

The state has also settled with other opioid manufacturers and distributors including Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and Walgreens. In total, the settlements will bring almost $100 million to the state over the next 15 years to be used for opioid addiction treatment and prevention. But that amount is tiny compared to the cost of the opioid epidemic. 

In a recent report, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority estimated that the opioid crisis cost Alaska about $400 million in just one year. That includes health costs and hidden costs like lost productivity, but it doesn’t include the non-economic costs of the crisis. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed an advisory council in 2021 to shape how to use money from the settlements. The council advised it should be used for programs that prevent addiction, reduce harm from addiction and help people recover.

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Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Rachel here.

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