Walgreens reaches $500M opioid settlement with New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dan Alberstone is leaving New Mexico a winner, but the cost has been great.

“Families and communities across the state have been ravaged,” said Alberstone, with the Baron and Budd Law Firm.

He represented the state of New Mexico in a two-month bench trial against pharmacies initiated by former Attorney General Hector Balderas. The allegation: pharmacies failed in their responsibility when it came to distributing opioids.

“One of the misperceptions is, the pharmacies are just filling prescriptions,” Alberstone said. “As I articulated to the court, the pharmacies are the last line of defense.”

Pharmacies – one by one – settled with the state, but Walgreens remained and went to trial. Alberstone said one New Mexico mom shared the story of her 15-year-old son in court.

“Was a stellar athlete, did really well in school, was a great athlete, got injured once or twice – I think playing football,” Alberstone said.

The student was prescribed opioids fulfilled at pharmacies and became addicted.

“They kept putting this kid in rehab situations, and halfway houses, and rehab facilities. And at the end of the day, this 15-year-old committed suicide. That was a real-life story,” Alberstone said.

So what about illegal opioids? Alberstone said it’s all connected.

“As I argued to the judge, this is no different than designer purses, designer watches, where you have counterfeits,” Alberstone said. “And then what happened was, these cartels would come in, they would counterfeit the blues, the oxys, to make them look exactly with the same markings as an oxycodone.”

Walgreens settled for $500 million – a record amount for the state from a single opioid defendant.

The money will now go toward undoing the harm the opioid epidemic is causing in the state.

“You may not be able to prevent, you know, the adult from doing what they’re doing,” Alberstone said. “But, what you can do, for the future of the state, is put them back on a better path.”

Walgreens did not admit any wrongdoing. The other pharmacies, including CVS, Albertsons, Kroger and Walmart, combined to settle for $274 million – bringing the total settlement money from pharmacies to $774 million.

The AG’s office said the money will be split between local and state governments over the next 15 years.