Walmart offers $3bn to settle lawsuits over role in opioid crisis

Tentative agreement would bring settlement total from lawsuits against various companies to more than $50bn.

Walmart's logo is seen outside one of its stores in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
The retail giant Walmart joins chains like CVS and Walgreens in settling lawsuits related to their roles in the opioid crisis [File: Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters]

The US retail giant Walmart has said that it will pay $3.1bn as a tentative settlement in lawsuits brought by state, local and tribal governments over the company’s role in the opioid crisis.

Walmart announced the settlement framework in a statement released Tuesday, offering to pay a fee that amounts to about 2 percent of its quarterly revenue, which AFP says is more than $150bn.

“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,” the statement reads. “Walmart strongly disputes the allegations in these matters, and this settlement framework does not include any admission of liability.”

The opioid crisis has been connected to nearly 700,000 deaths since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a string of pharmaceutical drugmakers and distributors have been sued over allegations that irresponsible policies spurred the crisis forward. More than 3,300 such suits have been filed since 2017, resulting in more than $50bn in settlement funds.

The announcement came after two US pharmacy chains, CVS and Walgreens, agreed to pay about $5bn each to settle similar lawsuits earlier in November.

Walmart’s tentative settlement could mark the last of its size by a large corporation, as many companies involved in the opioid crisis have already reached agreements. Walmart said in its statement that it retained legal resources to defend itself from further lawsuits relating to the crisis outside of the settlement framework.

Forty-three states would have to approve Walmart’s plan by mid-December for the settlement to be finalised, and local governments could sign on by the end of March 2023. Each state’s allocation depends in part on how many local governments agree to the settlement.

Some state authorities have said that Walmart was less reckless than other distributors in its prescription of opioids.

“Although Walmart filled significantly fewer prescriptions for opioids than 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.

New York Attorney General Letitia James stated in a release that the settlement would also require Walmart to submit to oversight in order to prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious ones.

Opioids, especially the synthetic opioid fentanyl, continue to claim lives worldwide. In the US alone, more than 100,000 people died of overdoses last year, according to the CDC.

Purdue Pharma, whose prescription pill OxyContin is widely blamed for sparking the addiction and overdose crisis, and its owners in the Sackler family are seeking to resolve opioid claims against them through a $6bn settlement in bankruptcy court.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies