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Connecticut part of a $3.1 billion Walmart opioid settlement, but deal isn't finalized yet

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 19: Shopping carts sit in the parking lot of a Walmart store on May 19, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. Walmart reported a 74% increase in U.S. online sales for the quarter that ended April 30, and a 10% increase in same store sales for the same period as the effects of the coronavirus helped to boost sales. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Walmart has proposed paying $3.1 billion to settle lawsuits brought by states dealing with the opioid crisis.

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

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

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong served as a lead negotiator on the deal, along with attorneys general in 15 other states, including New York and Massachusetts.

“Walmart pharmacies dispensed massive quantities of opioids into communities across Connecticut and nationwide,” Tong said in a statement. “Their actions fueled the addiction crisis and caused unparalleled suffering and loss. One by one, we will hold every player in the addiction industry accountable.”

Tong said he and other attorneys general were working to bring “tens of billions of dollars back into communities to support treatment and recovery, and to save lives.”

Pledging Connecticut will sue the federal government should a national abortion ban be enacted, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong talks with supporters during his victory address. Tong defeated Republican challenger Jessica Kordas.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong

Most of the drugmakers that produced the most opioids along with 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 is on how the 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.

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart 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 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.

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

Walmart's plan would have to be approved by 43 states by Dec. 15, and local governments could sign on by March 31, 2023.

The funds will be divided among states that sign on to provide treatment and recovery services to people with opioid use disorder. The settlement will include oversight to prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious ones.

Last month, states confirmed that negotiations were also underway with Walgreens and CVS. Those agreements have yet to be finalized.

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

The Associated Press' Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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