In a significant move towards addressing the devastating opioid epidemic that has plagued the United States for over a decade, Kroger, one of the nation's largest supermarket and drugstore chains, announced that it will allocate up to $1.4 billion over the next 11 years to settle a substantial portion of the ongoing litigation.
The funds will be disbursed to states, local governments, and Native American tribes, with the aim of supporting crisis treatment and implementing various measures to combat opioid addiction. Notably, $36 million of the settlement will be directed towards Native American tribes, underscoring the broad scope of this crisis. Additionally, a portion of the settlement, approximately $177 million, will cover attorney and legal fees associated with the litigation.
This landmark transaction will directly benefit 33 Kroger stores across 35 states. It's worth noting that prior agreements with New Mexico and West Virginia had already been announced, underscoring Kroger's commitment to addressing this pervasive issue.
Despite this substantial settlement, Kroger did not admit guilt as part of the agreement. Instead, the company emphasized its dedication to resolving the pending opioid litigation and prioritizing patient safety. This move reflects Kroger's proactive stance in combating opioid abuse.
The current surge in opioid-related deaths in the U.S. is primarily attributed to illicit synthetic substances like fentanyl. In an interview, Jayne Conroy, a lawyer representing the governments in their lawsuits against pharmaceutical firms, emphasized the responsibility of large prescription medicine providers in funding opioid relief programs. Conroy stated, "Massive addiction is the issue. Excessive prescription drug use causes that addiction."
This settlement comes in the wake of similar agreements reached by other major retailers.
Walgreens settled an opioid distribution complaint with San Francisco for approximately $230 million earlier in the year. Texas prosecutors also accused Walmart of exacerbating the drug crisis, leading to a $168 million settlement this summer. Furthermore, CVS and Walgreens resolved opioid-related charges for over $10 billion in the previous year, following Walmart's $3.1 billion settlement in 2022.
It's important to note that other retailers, including Publix and Albertsons, are currently facing their own opioid-related lawsuits. Additionally, government opioid claims are also impacting pharmaceutical entities like Express Scripts and OptumRx.
In taking this substantial step, Kroger joins a growing list of companies working towards ameliorating the dire consequences of the opioid epidemic. This settlement underscores the collective responsibility of stakeholders in the healthcare industry to prioritize patient safety and address the complex challenges posed by opioid addiction in the United States.