Walmart on Tuesday proposed a $3.1 billion legal settlement over the toll of potent opioids sold by prescription at its pharmacies, becoming the latest drug industry major player to pledge major support to state, local and tribal governments that have yet to act. still grappling with a crisis in overdose deaths.
The retail giant’s announcement follows similar proposals on Nov. 2 from the two largest U.S. pharmacy chains, CVS Health and Walgreen Co., which each said they would pay about $5 billion.
Most of the drug companies that produced the most opioids and the largest drug distribution companies have already achieved it settlements. With the largest pharmacies settling in, this represents a shift in the opioid litigation saga. For years, the question was whether companies would be held responsible for an overdose crisis fueled in part by a deluge of prescription drugs.
With the crisis still raging, the focus is now on how the settlement dollars — now totaling more than $50 billion – will be used and whether they will help reduce the record number of overdose deaths, even though prescription drugs have become a relatively small part of the epidemic.
Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, 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 company admits no liability with the settlement plan. The settlement would represent approximately 2% of quarterly revenue.
“Walmart believes the settlement framework is in the best interests of all parties and will provide significant assistance to communities across the country in the fight against the opioid crisis, with assistance reaching state and local governments faster than any other nationwide opioid settlement to date. please.” the company said in a statement.
Lawyers representing local governments said the company will pay most of the settlement next year if finalized.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a press release that the company would have to comply with oversight measures, prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious prescriptions.
The deals are the result of negotiations with a group of attorneys general, but they are not final. The CVS and Walgreens deals must first be accepted by a critical mass of state and local governments before they are finalized. Walmart’s plan would need to be approved by 43 states. The formal process has not yet begun.
After governments used funds from tobacco settlements for purposes unrelated to public health in the 1990s, the opioid settlements have been set up to ensure that most of the money goes to fighting the crisis. State and local governments are now preparing spending plans.
Opioids of all kinds have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the US over the past two decades.
In the 2000s, most fatal opioid overdoses involved prescription drugs such as OxyContin and generic oxycodone. After governments, doctors and companies took steps to make them more difficult to obtain, people addicted to the drugs increasingly turned to heroin, which turned out to be more deadly.
In recent years, opioid deaths have risen to a record high of about 80,000 per year. Most of those deaths involve an illegally produced version of the powerful lab-made drug fentanylappearing throughout the US illegal drug supply.