New Mexico officials on Thursday announced a settlement with grocery and pharmacy retailer The Kroger Co. in a deal that the state Attorney General’s Office estimates will provide $60 million to fund opioid abatement efforts.
Kroger, the Ohio-based parent company of Smith’s Food and Drug Center, was one of three pharmaceutical chains that went to trial this year in a case filed by the state accusing pharmacy chains of reaping large profits selling addictive drugs to New Mexicans.
Attorneys for the pharmacy retailers argued that no opioid prescriptions were dispensed without a legitimate medical purpose as determined by licensed medical providers.
The suit, filed by Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office, alleged that Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger pharmacies failed to investigate suspicious opioid orders while selling large quantities of opioid drugs across the state.
By the time the trial concluded Oct. 18, Kroger and Walmart had reached settlement agreements with the state, leaving Walgreens as the last remaining defendant.
The case will be decided by 1st Judicial District Judge Francis Mathew and not a jury.
“We achieved a great result for New Mexico by taking Kroger to court, and this settlement sends a clear message that pharmacies operating in New Mexico must take an active role in protecting the communities they serve,” Balderas said in the statement.
Balderas plans to announce other settlements with Albertsons, CVS and Walmart in the coming weeks as details are finalized, according to the statement.
Luis Robles, an Albuquerque attorney representing the Attorney General’s Office, said the parties are likely to complete the settlement agreements by the end of the year.
Another jury trial is scheduled to begin March 20 in the state’s lawsuit against several opioid manufacturers, including Teva Pharmaceuticals, Allergan and Anda Inc., Robles said.
Three other defendants in the lawsuit, including Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Mallinckrodt, have filed for bankruptcy and any money the state receives from those companies must be determined by a bankruptcy judge, he said.
The Kroger settlement will divide funds between state and local governments and requires all funds be spent on efforts to address the state’s opioid crisis.
The settlement will provide funds to the state and local communities within 90 days, the statement said. The AG’s Office “will coordinate a statewide effort to get local governments signed up for the deal over the next three months,” the statement said.