Walmart Offers $3.1 Billion To Settle Opioid Lawsuits—Joining Rival Retailers Accused Of Fueling Drug Crisis


Walmart on Tuesday offered to pay $3.1 billion to settle claims it mishandled prescriptions for powerful painkillers, joining a growing list of companies striking billion dollar deals to end rafts of litigation seeking to hold them accountable for purportedly fueling the nation’s devastating opioid crisis.

Key Facts

The deal would settle a number of lawsuits brought by several U.S. states and municipalities alleging Walmart’s pharmacies improperly filled opioid prescriptions, the firm said in a statement.

The announcement comes weeks after Walmart’s rivals CVS Health and Walgreens announced their own plans to resolve opioid litigation, with each proposing around $5 billion.

Walmart—in line with CVS and Walgreens—stressed the deal is not an admission of wrongdoing and said the company still disputes the allegations and will defend itself against any lawsuit left unresolved by the deal.

The money will be paid to states and other parties over six years, according to a draft agreement published by New York’s Attorney General.

The retail giant said its settlement meant money would reach communities faster than other nationwide settlements, with rivals CVS and Walgreens respectively due to pay out over 10 and 15 years.

Key Background

Walmart’s settlement follows months of negotiations and years of litigation as part of wider reckoning for the firms involved in producing and distributing opioids, a class of drug mainly used to treat pain that includes morphine, oxycodone, heroin and fentanyl. They are an important class of medicine and vital in many contexts, though they can be dangerous and addictive and their use has spiraled and contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths in recent years. Many state and local governments believe such companies, which have profited enormously from the sale of opioids, shoulder at least some responsibility for the worsening crisis that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl—which can kill in minute quantities and other drugs are often laced with—are driving the increasing overdose death rates, but experts point to earlier waves of prescription opioid use that contributed both to their own waves of death and the ongoing crisis by turning people towards illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

What To Watch For

Walmart’s deal is not final and must be approved by states and other local governments. The formal approval process has yet to begin and 43 states will need to buy in to finalize it. New York Attorney General Letitia James said she is confident the settlement will gain the necessary support in a statement on the deal. The other deals from Walgreens and CVS need to acquire similar approval from states.

Big Number

109,000. That’s around how many people are believed to have died of a drug overdose last year, according to CDC data. The vast majority of these deaths, nearly 81,000, were from opioids. Synthetic opioids were overwhelmingly to blame, CDC data shows, involved in more than 71,000 opioid overdose deaths last year.

Further Reading

Who gets the billions of opioid settlement dollars? (Politico)

Allocate opioid settlement dollars to real addiction-ending solutions (STAT)