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Walmart Agrees to Settle Opioid Lawsuits for $3.1 Billion

CNET 11/16/2022 Jessica Rendall
Douglas Sacha/Getty Images © Provided by CNET Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

Walmart agreed Tuesday to a $3.1 billion settlement over lawsuits that tie the retail giant to the longstanding opioid crisis in the US. Earlier this month, CVS and Walgreens announced "agreements in principle," which are expected to result in $10 billion settlements. 

The money will resolve "all opioid lawsuits and potential lawsuits by state, local, and tribal governments, if conditions are satisfied," Walmart said in a statement. The New York Times reported Tuesday that the money will help pay for addiction treatment and drug education programs in the US. 

The opioid crisis has ravaged the US over the past decade and contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths from drug overdoses. About 75% of the nearly 92,000 deaths in 2020 from drug overdoses involved an opioid. Fentanyl, a drug that's often laced into heroin and cocaine, is a major contributor. 

The health care industry, as well as pharmacies like Walmart, Walgreens and CVS, have come under intense scrutiny for the over-prescription of opioids, which led to addictions in people who initially took them for medical reasons. The invention of the pain medication OxyContin, in particular, was a catalyst in the opioid epidemic. 

The US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency over the opioid crisis in 2017. 

In Walmart's statement on the settlement, the company said that it "strongly disputes the allegations in these matters, and this settlement framework does not include any admission of liability." Walmart added that it remains committed to providing customers with access to their prescriptions while "helping to fight the opioid crisis facing our country."  

In a Nov. 2 statement, Walgreens said that it's "committed to being a part of the solution, and this settlement framework will allow us to keep our focus on the health and wellbeing of our customers and patients, while making positive contributions to address the opioid crisis." 

CVS also said in a Nov. 2 statement that the "agreement would fully resolve claims dating back a decade or more and is not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing. CVS Health will continue to defend against any litigation that the final agreement does not resolve."

Walgreens, Walmart and CVS have each said they keep naloxone, also known as Narcan, in their US pharmacies. Naloxone -- if given in time to a person who is overdosing on opioids including prescription pills, heroin or fentanyl – can reverse the overdose. Naloxone is available in all 50 states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and carrying it is "no different" than carrying an EpiPen. 

Purdue Pharma, which produced OxyContin and whose owners have settled multibillion-dollar lawsuits over the opioid crisis, couldn't be reached for comment. The Sackler Trust, which is owned by some of the same people who own Purdue Pharma, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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