Walmart offers to pay $3.1 billion to settle opioid lawsuits nationwide

Walmart store in Illinois
Walmart has become the latest major player in the drug industry to announce a plan to settle lawsuits over the opioid crisis.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

Walmart proposed a $3.1-billion legal settlement Tuesday over the toll of powerful prescription opioids sold at its pharmacies, becoming the latest major drug industry player to promise major support to state, local and tribal governments still grappling with a crisis in overdose deaths.

The retail giant’s announcement follows similar proposals Nov. 2 from the two largest U.S. pharmacy chains, CVS Health and Walgreens, which each said they would pay about $5 billion.

Most of the drugmakers that produced the most opioids and the biggest drug-distribution companies have already reached settlements. With the largest pharmacies now settling, it represents a shift in the opioid litigation saga. For years, the question was whether companies would be held accountable for an overdose crisis that a flood of prescription drugs helped spark.


With the crisis still raging, the focus now is on how the settlement dollars — now totaling more than $50 billion — will be used and whether the money will help curtail record numbers of overdose deaths, even as prescription drugs have become a relatively small portion of the epidemic.

Walmart, based in Bentonville, Ark., said in a statement that it “strongly disputes” allegations in lawsuits from state and local governments that its pharmacies improperly filled prescriptions for the powerful prescription painkillers. The company does not admit liability with the settlement, which would represent about 2% of its quarterly revenue.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

The state and L.A. County have worked hard to make Naloxone more widely available. One of the hurdles, though, has been the price of the inhalable version, Narcan.

May 23, 2022

Lawyers representing local governments said the company would pay most of the settlement, if finalized, over the next year.

New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James said in a release that the company would have to comply with oversight measures, prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious ones.

Some government lawyers suggested that Walmart has acted more responsibly than other pharmacies when it comes to 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 Atty. Gen. Doug Peterson said in a statement.


Fentanyl and other potent synthetic opioids ingrained in the nation’s illicit drug supply are killing more people in the U.S. than any other drug has.

Nov. 3, 2022

The deals are the product of negotiations with a group of state attorneys general, but they are not final. The CVS and Walgreens deals would have to be accepted first by a critical mass of state and local governments before they are completed.

Walmart’s plan would have to be approved by 43 states by Dec. 15, and local governments could sign on by March 31, 2023. Each state’s allocation depends partly on how many local governments agree.

“Companies like Walmart need to step up and help by ensuring Pennsylvanians get the treatment and recovery resources they need,” Pennsylvania Atty. Gen. Josh Shapiro, who last week was elected governor, said in a statement. “This deal with Walmart adds to the important progress we’ve already achieved through our settlements with the opioid manufacturers and distributors — and we’re not done yet.”

After governments used funds from tobacco settlements in the 1990s for purposes not related to public health, the opioid settlements have been crafted to ensure that most of the money goes to fighting the crisis. State and local governments are devising spending plans now.

A bipartisan report from a congressional commission says the U.S. needs a new multi-pronged strategy to counter the nationwide overdose epidemic.

Feb. 8, 2022

Opioids of all kinds have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades.

In the 2000s, most fatal opioid overdoses involved prescription drugs such as OxyContin and generic oxycodone. After governments, doctors and companies took steps to make them harder to obtain, people addicted to the drugs increasingly turned to heroin, which proved more deadly.

In recent years, opioid deaths have soared to record levels of around 80,000 a year. Most of those deaths involve illicitly produced versions of the powerful lab-made drug fentanyl, which is appearing throughout the U.S. supply of illegal drugs.