Walmart proposed a $3.1 billion settlement on Tuesday for the toll of powerful prescription opioids sold at its pharmacies, becoming the latest drug industry player to promise support to state, local and tribal governments grappling with a crisis in overdose deaths. The retail giant’s announcement follows similar proposals this month from the two largest U.S. pharmacy chains, CVS Health and Walgreen Co., which each said they would pay about $5 billion, reports the Associated Press. Most drug makers that produced the most opioids and the biggest drug distribution companies have 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 caused by a flood of prescription drugs.
With the crisis still raging, the focus now is on how settlement dollars now totaling more than $50 billion will be used and whether they will help curtail record numbers of overdose deaths, even as prescription drugs have become a relatively small portion of the epidemic. Walmart said it “strongly disputes” allegations in lawsuits from state and local governments that its pharmacies improperly filled prescriptions for the powerful prescription painkillers. “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. The deals are not final. The CVS and Walgreens deals must be accepted first by a critical mass of state and local governments. Walmart’s plan would have to be approved by 43 states. Opioids of all kinds have been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over two decades.