Walmart agrees to $3.1 billion settlement over opioid lawsuits
Walmart has reached a $3.1 billion settlement regarding the sale of powerful prescription opioids at its pharmacies. This is the latest major player in the drug industry to promise significant support to states, localities, and tribal governments still struggling with overdose deaths.
The retail giant’s announcement on Tuesday follows similar proposals on November 2 from the two largest U.S. pharmacy chains, CVS Health and Walgreen Co., which each said they would pay about $5 billion.
The majority of drugmakers who produced the most opioids have reached settlements. So have the largest drug distribution companies. The settlements are a significant shift in the opioid litigation. For years, the question of whether companies would be held accountable for the overdose crisis that a flood of prescription drugs helped spark remained.
With the crisis still raging, the focus is now on how the settlement dollars — totaling more than $50 billion — will be used and whether they will help curtail record numbers of overdose deaths, even as prescription drugs have become a relatively small portion of the epidemic.
Settlement is not an admission of liability
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart said in a statement that it “strongly disputes” allegations in lawsuits from state and local governments that its pharmacies improperly filled prescriptions for the powerful prescription painkillers. The settlement plan does not admit to liability. The settlement would amount to approximately 2% of the company’s quarterly revenue.
“Walmart believes that the settlement framework is in everyone’s best interests and will provide significant assistance to communities across the country fighting the opioid crisis. Aid will reach state and local governments quicker than any other nationwide opioid settlement,” the company stated in a statement.
Walmart stated that it will continue to vigorously defend its company against any lawsuits not resolved by the settlement framework. “
Lawyers representing local government said that the settlement would be paid in its entirety over the next year, if it is completed.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement that Walmart would have to comply with oversight measures, prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious ones.
James stated that the settlement would require significant improvements in Walmart’s pharmacy management of opioids. “
The deals are the product of negotiations with a group of state attorneys general, but they are not final. Before the CVS and Walgreens deals can be finalized, they must first be approved by a majority of state and local governments. Walmart’s plan would have to be approved by 43 states. The formal process has not begun.
James said that she is “optimistic” that the settlement will receive the support of the required 43 states by the end of 2022, allowing local governments to join in the settlement in early 2023.
After governments used funds from tobacco settlements in the 1990s for purposes not related to public health, the opioid settlements have been crafted to ensure most of the money goes to fighting the crisis. Now, state and local governments are preparing spending plans.
Opioids of all kinds have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades.
In the 2000s, most fatal opioid overdoses involved prescription drugs such as OxyContin and generic oxycodone. People addicted to these drugs resorted to heroin after governments, doctors, and companies made it harder for them to be obtained.
In recent years, opioid deaths have soared to record levels around 80,000 a year. Most of these deaths involve illegally produced versions of the powerful drug fentanyl. This drug is available in the U.S. market.
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