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Walmart offers to pay $3.1 billion to settle opioid lawsuits

by The Associated Press | November 16, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2020 file photo, a woman pushes a shopping cart to enter a Walmart in Rolling Meadows, Ill. Walmart on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 become the latest major player in the drug industry to announce a plan to settle lawsuits filed by state and local governments over the toll of powerful prescription opioids sold at its pharmacies with state and local governments across the U.S. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Walmart proposed a $3.1 billion legal settlement on Tuesday over the toll of powerful prescription opioids sold at its pharmacies, becoming the latest major drug industry player to promise major support to state, local and tribal governments 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 drugmakers that produced the most opioids and the biggest drug distribution companies have already reached settlements. With the largest pharmacies now settling, it represents a shift in the opioid litigation saga. For years, the question was whether companies would be held accountable for an overdose crisis that a flood of prescription drugs helped spark.

With the crisis still raging, the focus now is on how the settlement dollars -- now 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.

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart said in a statement it "strongly disputes" allegations in lawsuits from state and local governments that its pharmacies improperly filled prescriptions for the powerful prescription painkillers. The company does not admit liability with the settlement, which would represent about 2 percent of its quarterly revenue.

"Walmart believes the settlement framework is in the best interest of all parties and will provide significant aid to communities across the country in the fight against the opioid crisis, with aid reaching state and local governments faster than any other nationwide opioid settlement to date," the company said in a statement.

Lawyers representing local governments said the company would pay most of the settlement during the next year if it is finalized.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a release the company would have to comply with oversight measures, prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious ones. Some government lawyers suggested Walmart has acted more responsibly than other pharmacies.

"Although Walmart filled significantly fewer prescriptions for opioids then CVS or Walgreens, since 2018 Walmart has been the most proactive in trying to monitor and control prescription opioid diversion attempted through its pharmacies," Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a statement.

The deals are the product of negotiations with a group of state attorneys general, but they are not final. The CVS and Walgreens deals would have to be accepted first by a critical mass of state and local governments before they are completed.

Print Headline: Walmart offers to pay $3.1 billion to settle opioid lawsuits

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