Washington Post: Walmart agrees to pay $3.1 billion to resolve opioid lawsuits

The settlement resolves litigation with states, cities and tribes tied to the painkillers, and follows similar agreements with Walgreens and CVS

By Jacob Bogage and Meryl Kornfield

Updated November 15, 2022 at 4:13 p.m. EST|Published November 15, 2022 at 10:46 a.m. EST

Walmart will pay $3.1 billion to resolve opioid lawsuits brought on by more than a dozen states, officials announced Tuesday, becoming the third national chain in recent weeks to sign off on multibillion-dollar settlements stemming from the national epidemic.

Seventeen states, along with cities and Native American tribes, had accused Walmart of dispensing the highly addictive pain pills despite the red flags that allowed them to be siphoned onto the black market. On Nov. 2, Walgreens and CVS announced they would pay more than $10 billion combined to resolve similar multistate litigation.

The retailers say they followed the law and blamed doctors for overprescribing the medication. There was no admission of wrongdoing under the terms of their settlements.

“Too many families have lost loved ones to the opioid epidemic, and too many people have lost years of their lives to addiction,” Pennsylvania Attorney General and Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro (D) said in a statement. “My office is determined to hold accountable the companies that created and fueled this crisis. Companies like Walmart need to step up and help by ensuring Pennsylvanians get the treatment and recovery resources they need.”

In a statement, Walmart said it was “proud of our pharmacists and our efforts to help fight the opioid crisis” and that it “strongly disputed” allegations of wrongdoing.

Funds will be distributed among state, local and Indigenous governments for opioid addiction treatment, recovery and abatement, officials said. The settlement also includes court-ordered remedial measures for Walmart, including “robust oversight to prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious prescriptions.”

Native American tribes who join the Walmart deal will receive as much as $89 million, said tribal attorney Lloyd Miller.

“With that, and if you take account of all the settlements so far the tribal recoveries will be approaching $1.5 billion,” he said, “which is starting to be a meaningful amount in terms of the ability of tribes to do significant remediation.”

 Tribes have not yet received money from any of the opioid settlements, Miller said. Meanwhile, Native Americans are disproportionately dying from drug overdoses, according to federal data.

Shapiro and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) led the litigation, which also included attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

Walmart said it would expedite its payment under the settlement such that the full $3.1 billion will be disbursed within one year of the effective date of the agreement. The settlement still must be formally approved by Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the Northern District of Ohio.

Walgreens is set to pay out $5.7 billion over 15 years. CVS will pay $5 billion over 10 years.

State attorneys general and individual litigants have secured billions more in settlements from pharmaceutical manufacturers, including $6 billion from Purdue Pharma and its owners the Sackler family, and $4.2 billion from Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Johnson & Johnson, the largest U.S. drugmaker, and distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health agreed in February to pay $26 billion to resolve nearly 3,000 lawsuits brought by state and local governments and individual plaintiffs. None of the companies admitted wrongdoing.

“While our efforts thus far have obtained nearly $50 billion for communities nationwide, our work is far from finished,” a court-ordered consortium of victims’ representatives said in a statement.

“Alongside community leaders, first responders, and others on the front lines of this crisis, we will continue to work to hold all those responsible for this epidemic fully accountable and obtain some measure of justice for its catastrophic effects.”

The announcement coincided with the release of Walmart’s third-quarter financial results. The retailer posted better-than-expected sales and profit and raised its full-year earnings outlook, powering up its stock 6.6 percent, to $147.48, on Thursday.

Nash Sanderson