Walmart To Settle Opioid Lawsuits With $3.1 Billion

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Justine Bushman, Staff Writer

On November 15, Walmart agreed to settle multiple lawsuits from county and state governments for alleged opioid sale misconduct. On November 2, similar announcements were made by leading U.S. pharmacies CVS Health and Walgreen Co.

In the late 1990s, opioids were introduced to the medical industry as a method of pain relief with reassurance from doctors that there was no need to worry about addiction. Since then, the distribution of opioids has dramatically increased, resulting in high rates of prescription drug misuse and the current opioid epidemic in the U.S.

Opioids, such as morphine, are painkilling drugs meant to replicate the effects of opium. One of the many issues of opioid use is increasing tolerance thresholds, where individuals who are dependent on the drug need to consume more and more for the same effect. Opioids also cause severe withdrawal symptoms when users attempt to stop using. All of these factors contribute to the way opioids have become so impactful in the lives of its users.

According to a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2020, around 10.1 million people misused prescription opioids, 1.6 million people had an opioid use disorder, and 70,630 people died due to a drug overdose in 2019. 

In a report detailing opioid-related lawsuits since 2017 by Reuters, it stated that there were over 3,300 lawsuits from state governments, local governments, and Native American tribes that accused pharmacies of downplaying the severe risks that opioids had and ignoring the red flags leading to illegal selling of the drug.

The primary lawsuit was filed by the counties of Lake and Trumbull, Ohio, where roughly 80 million and 61 million prescription painkillers, respectively, were dispensed between 2012-2016, according to reports from CNBC.

The attorneys representing Lake and Trumbull counties argued that CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart did nothing to stop the pills from flooding the counties or stop the filing of false prescriptions. The counties believed that the involvement of these companies in the epidemic created a public nuisance, and the counties reported that the epidemic cost them nearly one billion dollars in expenses.

CVS affiliates disagree with the prosecution and claim that the public nuisance law was misused. CVS also denies its involvement with filling non-prescribed opioids. CVS spokesman said that “opioid prescriptions are written by doctors, not pharmacists.” Walgreens also came out to say that “The facts and law do not support the verdict.” In fact, Walgreens denies any involvement with opioid misconduct. A Walgreens spokesperson stated that internet pharmacies fueled the epidemic.

Regardless of the claims of the companies, CVS said that if a settlement is reached, they would pay the affected areas nearly $5 billion over ten years. Walgreens would pay a similar $5 billion in around 15 years and Walmart has tentatively agreed to pay $3 billion to settle their lawsuits, according to CNN.

Many county and state governments have been able to charge the companies on behalf of their involvement, or lack thereof, in the opioid epidemic and some have been able to secure money to help rehabilitate the people involved in the epidemic. These changes can help in the well-being of former and current opioid users and bring support to anyone affected by the epidemic.