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Walmart to pay $3.1 billion to settle opioid litigation

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The Arkansas-based company is the latest retailer to agree to a settlement over the dispensing of addictive opioid medications. Walmart had previously vowed to fight the litigation.

Walmart has reached a settlement in litigation relating to the national opioid epidemic totaling $3.1 billion. The settlement will effectively resolve all opioid lawsuits by state, local and tribal governments, according to the retailer.

The hefty settlement dinged Walmart’s earnings per share by $1.11 in the third quarter, helping to drive a net loss of 66 cents per share for the retail giant. The deal also comes on the heels of settlements reached by competitors Walgreens and CVS last week totaling $10 billion.

“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, subject to satisfying all settlement requirements,” the company noted in the release.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 70,630 people died from drug overdoses in 2019 alone, with an estimated 10.1 million people misusing prescription opioids in 2019. The federal agency reports that between 1999 and 2013, the rate of drug poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesics nearly quadrupled, and deaths related to heroin have also increased sharply since 2010, with a 39% increase between 2012 and 2013.

“In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates,” noted HHS. “Increased prescription of opioid medications led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.”

Prior to the settlement, Walmart had vowed to fight the litigation saying its pharmacists were not to blame for the U.S. opioid crisis. Even after the settlement, Walmart said it disputes the allegations, and the settlement framework does not include any admission of liability. Walmart said it will continue to defend the company against any lawsuit not resolved through this settlement framework.

Walmart has adopted many approaches to fighting the opioid crisis, including educating and empowering pharmacies, reducing the number of opioids dispensed, protecting against diversion and theft, educating patients and communities on opioid abuse and advocating for state and national policies aimed at curbing opioid abuse and misuse.