The State of Alaska recently agreed to three multi-state settlements with opioid manufacturers and a chain pharmacy in ongoing legal actions relating to the opioid crisis. These include Walmart for approximately $8.5 million, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries for approximately $8.2 million and Allergan for approximately $4.8 million.
The State has also received in the last couple of weeks final settlement proposals from CVS ($10 million over 10 years) and Walgreens ($11 million over 15 years) The State is evaluating whether to join those global settlements as well. These settlements would amount to an additional $21 million.
Between 2010 to 2017, Alaska received 303,646,336 retail doses of prescription opioid painkillers. With Alaska’s population of 721,000 residents, this equates to roughly 420 doses per Alaskan. According to the State in its legal filings, these numbers alone should have put pharmacies and distributors on notice that there were too many opioids flooding the Alaska market, and the companies should have reported suspicious orders as required by law.
“The State and our agency partners have been fighting the opioid crisis on three fronts through interdiction of illegal drug trafficking, public health intervention/education programs, and litigation that holds distributors, manufacturers and chain pharmacies that contributed to the crisis accountable,” said Alaska Lt. Governor Nancy Dahlstrom. “The hard work is bringing results.”
The Walmart filing states: “This case arises from the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history — an epidemic of addiction, overdose, and death caused by Defendants’ flooding the United States, including the State of Alaska, with prescription opioids, in violation of their common-law duties and obligations under the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) and Alaska Controlled Substances Act (“ACSA”).”
“These chain pharmacies had a duty to investigate, to stop some of their prescriptions, to report some to law enforcement,” said Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills. “Instead, we believe our cases would show that they continued to sell and profit from the addictions of Alaskans. We are glad to see some of these companies have stepped forward and have been willing to bring their cases to a close through settlement.”
Last February, the State finalized a settlement for $58.5 million with the manufacturer Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and three major pharmaceutical distributors: Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson. Through the state and local government agreements, Alaska will receive the funds over the next 18 years.
While prescription opioids were the primary reason for opioid overdose deaths beginning in the late 1990s, heroin and then illegally-manufactured synthetic opioids became additional drivers of overdose deaths starting around 2010.
The State of Alaska is now battling the illegal-manufacturing and trafficking of synthetic opioids, in addition to continuing the successful work of curbing prescription opioid use.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety and local, State, and federal law enforcement agencies have seized over 212 pounds of illegal narcotics as part of a focused enforcement initiative that occurred across the state between May 1, 2022, and September 30, 2022, of this year. Law enforcement seized approximately 2.5 million potentially fatal doses of illicit fentanyl during this period. Additionally, 22,441 grams of heroin, 22,865 grams of methamphetamine, 13,306 grams of cocaine, and many other illicit narcotics have been seized.
“Your Alaska State Troopers are committed to doing our part to address the tidal wave of illegal drugs coming into our state. DPS has doubled down on drug interdiction activity across the state. We have put more Troopers onto our drug interdiction teams than we have ever had and increased our efforts across the board. Through these efforts we have seized more than 2.5 million potentially fatal doses of fentanyl and hundreds of pounds of other dangerous drugs,” said Alaska State Troopers Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit Deputy Commander Tony Wegrzyn. “We cannot do this critical work alone and ask that if Alaskans know of drug trafficking occurring in their community to please reach out to the Troopers or your local police department so we can investigate and hold those dealing dangerous drugs accountable.”
Alaskans can submit tips about drug trafficking occurring in their community to the Alaska State Troopers at (907) 451-5100 or to their local police department. For those who would like to remain anonymous, tips can be submitted through the AKTips smartphone app or online at dps.alaska.gov/tips.
In 2021, Alaska lost at least 253 people to overdose, with 196 deaths attributed to opioid overdose. Seventy-six percent of the deaths, or 150, involved synthetic narcotics, a category that includes fentanyl, according to an executive summary in a recent reportby the Governor’s Advisory Council on Opioid Remediation.
The advisory council, established by administrative order, incorporated public comments this fall and finalized the Governor’s Advisory Council on Opioid Remediation report that provides a framework for allocation of settlement funds for opioid remediation.
“Prior settlements with Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J, Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson amounted to $58,577,799 for the State of Alaska and nine sub-political regions to address the opioid crisis,” said Department of Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg. “These new settlements will be added to the opioid abatement account to address prevention, treatment, harm reduction and recovery efforts across the state.”
“The State and a wide variety of partners across the state are stepping up efforts to provide resources for those struggling with addiction and opioid misuse – and to end stigma so Alaskans can find treatment and begin healing,” Hedberg said. “Every life matters. Every day is a new day. Start your path to recovery today and please connect with us if you need help or support.”
The proposed settlement agreements are not final until two phases have been completed: a critical mass of states sign on (this has already been achieved in the Walmart settlement but the deadlines for Teva/Allergan are this week); and then a critical mass of political subdivisions have to sign on. The political subdivision sign on period will likely occur in January 2023.
Below are the legal complaints for reference: