Walmart has announced a $3.1 billion opioid settlement framework to resolve all lawsuits by state and local governments regarding prescription opioids sold at its pharmacies, following similar moves by other drug industry giants.
The Arkansas-based retailer said it “strongly disputes” the allegations and does not include any admission of liability in its framework. It also said it will continue to “vigorously defend the company against any lawsuit not resolved through this settlement framework.”
“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,” Walmart said in a statement.
The 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.
Opioid deaths have soared to record levels in recent years at around 80,000 a year, The Associated Press has reported. Most of those deaths involve illicitly produced versions of the powerful lab-made drug fentanyl, which is appearing throughout the U.S. supply of illegal drugs.
Most of the drugmakers that produced the most opioids and the biggest drug distribution companies have already reached settlements. 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.
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.
Walmart’s plan would have to be approved by 43 states by Dec. 15, and local governments could sign on by March 31, 2023. Each state’s allocation depends partly on how many local governments agree.
Walmart has said its approach to fighting the opioid crisis includes educating pharmacists, reducing opioid distribution, protecting against theft, offering more access to overdose reversal medication, educating patients and advocating for state and national anti-abuse policies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.