In a significant development in the ongoing battle against the opioid crisis, the New Mexico Attorney General's Office has settled a lawsuit against Walgreens and other distributors for their role in the state's opioid use disorder epidemic.
The settlement, amounting to $500 million, marks one of the largest settlements from a single opioid defendant in the nation and the largest by the attorney general in New Mexico's history.
The agreement, reached in March and made public recently, comes after years of litigation and a demand for a $24 billion abatement plan. Under the settlement, the payments will be disbursed over a 15-year period, with 55% allocated to towns and counties and 45% to the state. It is important to note that all parties involved are obligated to utilize the funds exclusively for opioid cleanup initiatives.
The law firm Baron & Budd, representing the state along with Robles Rael & Anaya, hailed the settlement as a significant step in addressing the opioid crisis and providing much-needed treatment for affected individuals. The settlement brings New Mexico's total recovery from retail pharmacy defendants alone to a staggering $774 million.
The lawsuit alleged that Walgreens failed to identify and reject suspicious prescriptions, leading to the dispensation of millions of potentially harmful opioids across communities in New Mexico.
Former Attorney General Hector Balderas accused the defendants of prioritizing profits over public safety, resulting in devastating consequences. Testimony during the trial highlighted the destructive impact of the opioid crisis, with witnesses recounting the tremendous suffering experienced by communities across the state.
Luis Robles, one of the attorneys involved in the case, expressed optimism that the settlement would aid in the fight against the opioid crisis and facilitate access to essential treatment for New Mexicans struggling with addiction. The lawsuit has reportedly transformed Robles' perspective on addiction and the link between prescription painkillers and heroin use.
While settlements of this magnitude are often a fraction of the original demand, attorneys involved in the case must consider various risks and factors during the negotiation process. These factors include the possibility of a judge reducing the settlement amount based on opposing arguments and the potential impact of a substantial award on a defendant's financial stability.
Although portions of the state's $24 billion abatement plan may need to be revised, the settlement will significantly increase funding for addressing opioid use disorder. In addition to the monetary compensation, Walgreens is required to implement operational changes and adhere to non-monetary requirements outlined in the settlement.
It is essential to highlight that the settlement funds must be exclusively allocated for combating the opioid crisis and cannot be diverted for other purposes, such as infrastructure projects. This ensures that the resources will be utilized effectively to address the urgent needs of affected individuals and communities.
The landmark settlement with Walgreens sends a strong message to pharmaceutical companies and distributors, emphasizing the accountability they bear for their actions.