Walmart to Pay $3.1 Billion to Settle Opioid Lawsuits

Walmart to Pay $3.1 Billion to Settle Opioid Lawsuits

Walmart Inc.


WMT 7.69%

has agreed to pay $3.1 billion to settle opioid-crisis lawsuits brought by several U.S. states and municipalities, adding to a landmark settlement with rival pharmacy chains.

The agreement resolves a collection of lawsuits brought by states, cities and Native American tribes. Earlier this month,

CVS Health Corp.


CVS 1.35%

and

Walgreens


WBA 2.19%

Boots Alliance Inc. agreed to pay roughly $5 billion apiece to settle the lawsuits. The companies didn’t admit wrongdoing in their deals.

The Walmart agreement was announced the same morning that the retail giant reported its latest quarterly results. The company said it took $3.3 billion in charges in the last quarter related to opioid settlements.

Walmart reported stronger-than-expected sales in the October-ended quarter and raised sales and profit goals for the year, signs the big discount chain is drawing in shoppers despite high inflation. Walmart shares rose over 8% in midmorning trading.

Each state, local government and tribe will need to decide whether to participate in the settlement. Plaintiff’s attorneys that lead negotiations are encouraging them to do so, saying the payments hold the pharmacies accountable for their alleged roles in the opioid abuse.

Walmart said that it strongly disputes allegations made in the lawsuits and that the settlement isn’t an admission of liability. The company said its settlement payments will reach communities faster than other deals. CVS is paying out over 10 years, and Walgreens over 15 years.

Walmart has roughly half as many locations as either CVS or Walgreens, which combined have roughly 19,000 U.S. drugstores. Walmart has faced scrutiny from the federal government related to how it prescribed opioids.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in December 2020 over its alleged role in the opioid crisis, claiming Walmart sought to boost profits by understaffing its pharmacies and pressuring employees to fill prescriptions quickly. The settlement with the states doesn’t cover the federal case, which Walmart has sought to have dismissed.

The Justice Department sued Walmart a few months after the company had pre-emptively sued the federal government, saying the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration were attempting to scapegoat the company for their failings. Walmart’s suit was dismissed in February 2021. Walmart appealed the dismissal, but lost that case late last year.

Opioid abuse has claimed more than half a million lives and triggered more than 3,000 lawsuits by governments, hospitals and others against players in the pharmaceutical industry, including manufacturers, distributors and drugstores.

The fact that Walmart will pay out funds almost immediately rather than over a decade or more “is particularly noteworthy considering that Walmart dispensed fewer opioids, and at lower dosages, than the other pharmacy defendants,” said lawyer

Paul Geller,

of Robbins Geller, a who is representing local communities.

Write to Sharon Terlep at sharon.terlep@wsj.com and Sarah Nassauer at Sarah.Nassauer@wsj.com

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