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Monday, October 2, 2023

Kroger to pay up to $1.4 billion to settle lawsuits over its role in opioid epidemic

Kroger said Friday that it will pay up to $1.4 billion over 11 years to settle most of the litigation against the grocery giant stemming from the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the U.S. for more than a decade.

Kroger, one of the country’s largest supermarket and drugstore chains, said the money will go to states and local governments, including $36 million to Native American tribes, to help fund treatment and other efforts to deal with the ongoing crisis. Another $177 million will go to cover attorney costs and related legal fees.

Kroger has stores in 35 states, and 33 would be eligible for money as part of the deal. The company previously announced settlements with New Mexico and West Virginia.

“This is an important milestone in the company’s efforts to resolve the pending opioid litigation and support abatement efforts,” Kroger said in a statement. “Kroger has long served as a leader in combating opioid abuse and remains committed to patient safety.”

The company did not admit any wrongdoing or liability under the settlement.

Opioids kill an estimated 80,000 people a year in the U.S., with the latest wave of deaths tied to illicit synthetic drugs such as fentanyl rather than prescription painkillers.

Jayne Conroy, a lawyer for the governments suing the companies, told The Associated Press in an interview Friday that it is appropriate that major prescription drug providers help fund efforts to deal with the devastating impact of opioids.

“It really isn’t a different problem,” she said. “The problem is the massive amount of addiction. That addiction stems from the massive amount of prescription drugs.”

Many of the nation’s largest retailers have paid out billions of dollars to states and cities around the country to resolve lawsuits over their role in dispensing opioids, which experts say has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. and other countries around the world.

In May, for example, Walgreens agreed to pay San Francisco nearly $230 million to settle a case over the pharmacy chain’s distribution of opioids.

Walmart this summer reached a $168 million deal with Texas prosecutors, who had accused the largest U.S. retailer of worsening the opioid crisis. That followed a $3.1 billion settlement Walmart struck in 2022, while pharmacy gains CVS and Walgreens last year agreed to pay more than $10 billion combined to resolve opioid-related suits.

Opioid litigation is continuing against other retailers, including supermarket chains Publix and Albertsons. Pharmacy benefit managers such as Express Scripts and OptumRx also face opioid claims from governments.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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