Kroger said Friday it will pay up to $1.4 billion over 11 years to settle most of the lawsuit against the grocery giant stemming from the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the United States for more than a decade.
Kroger, one of the nation’s largest supermarket and drugstore chains, said the money will go to state 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 legal fees 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 ongoing opioid litigation and support the fight against it,” Kroger said in a statement. “Kroger has long served as a leader in the fight against opioid abuse and remains committed to patient safety.”
The company has not admitted any wrongdoing or liability under the settlement.
Opioids kill an estimated 80,000 people a year in the United States, with the latest wave of deaths linked to illegal 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 providers of prescription drugs help fund efforts to deal with the devastating effects of opioids.
“It’s really not another 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 settle lawsuits over their role in dispensing opioids, which experts say have alleged hundreds of thousands of life in the United States and other countries around the world.
In May, for example, Walgreens agreedto decide a case about the pharmacy chain’s distribution of opioids.
Walmart reached one this summerwith Texas prosecutors who had accused the largest US retailer of exacerbating the opioid crisis. It followed a Walmart struck in 2022, while pharmacy behemoths CVS and Walgreens last year agreed to pay more than $10 billion combined to settle opioid-related lawsuits.
Opioid lawsuits continue against other retailers, including supermarket chains Publix and Albertsons. Pharmacy operators like Express Scripts and OptumRx also face opioid demands from governments.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.