Walmart, with $3.1 billion plan, joins big pharmacies in settling opioid suits

walmartlogo-300x117Walmart has offered to pay $3.1 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits filed against the deep-pocketed retailing giant, accusing it of complicity through its nationwide pharmacy operations in the lethal opioid abuse and overdose crisis.

The Bentonville, Ark., -based company insists it committed no wrong and the states, counties, cities, Indian tribes, and others who sued Walmart said it did not have as large a part as other pharmacy chains in inundating the country with powerful, prescribed painkillers.

Still, Walmart joins CVS and Walgreens in settling rather than confronting those who have found sustained success in seeking justice in the civil system, various news organizations have reported.

If the flood of plaintiffs agree to the proposed opioid settlements from Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens, the lawsuits will provide $13.1 billion in desperately needed aid to governments and individuals dealing with the addiction, debilitation, death, and other damages caused by opioids, the New York Times reported.

The Washington Post reported that plaintiffs’ lawyers and the civil justice system now have won more than $50 billion from various parties involved in the crisis:

“State attorneys general and individual litigants have secured billions more in settlements from pharmaceutical manufacturers, including $6 billion from Purdue Pharma and its owners the Sackler family, and $4.2 billion from Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals. Johnson & Johnson, the largest U.S. drugmaker, and distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health agreed in February to pay $26 billion to resolve nearly 3,000 lawsuits brought by state and local governments and individual plaintiffs. None of the companies admitted wrongdoing. ‘While our efforts thus far have obtained nearly $50 billion for communities nationwide, our work is far from finished,’ a court-ordered consortium of victims’ representatives said in a statement. ‘Alongside community leaders, first responders, and others on the front lines of this crisis, we will continue to work to hold all those responsible for this epidemic fully accountable and obtain some measure of justice for its catastrophic effects.’”

Federal officials say that the crisis cost more than 560,000 American lives between 1999 and 2020, with that toll worsening during the coronavirus pandemic that left too many people vulnerable, isolated, lonely, and cut off from substance abuse programs. In the most recent year for which data is available, the opioid crisis and its overdoses killed more than 100,000.

In the first six months of 2022, experts have seen a plateau or even in a handful of states a decline in overdose deaths, the Associated Press reported.

Still, public health and addiction experts, as well as lawyers for the plaintiffs in the cases against Big Pharma and various other big corporations implicated in the opioid crisis say the proposed settlements from Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens will provide welcome infusions of money to battle substance abuse. As the New York Times reported of the pharmacy defendants:

“The pharmacy chains were the last sectors in the pharmaceutical industry to be sued in a public health disaster that continues to contribute to the overdose deaths of thousands of Americans. They have been the most difficult to compel to come to the negotiating table, asserting throughout the years that their local pharmacists were merely filling doctor-ordered prescriptions of federally approved medications. Plaintiffs’ lawyers countered that the pharmacists showed flagrant disregard of the tragedies accruing outside their doors, as vast quantities of prescription painkillers, often wildly disproportionate to local populations, were being diverted to drug dealers and sold illegally.”

The Walmart settlement would be noteworthy because it would, if accepted by the disputing parties, pay quickly, the newspaper noted:

“Though Walmart would pay less in its settlement than either Walgreens or CVS, it would dispense the money far faster, with the bulk going out within the first year and the remainder in payments through 2028. In contrast, Walgreens is expected to pay $4.79 billion over 15 years to the states and local governments and $154.5 million to the tribes. CVS is expected to pay $4.9 billion to states and municipal governments over the next 10 years and about $130 million to tribes.”

News reports about the pharmacy chains’ proposed settlements have emphasized the sums that would go to Indian tribes and the speed of the payouts because native people were hit hard and continue to suffer and die disproportionately from the opioid crisis.

Considerable attention is shifting not only to court cases but also to how judgments and settlements will be allocated, especially at state levels, among competing programs that are supposed to assist governments, tribes, communities, and individuals slammed by the opioid crisis, the AP reported.

Parents, police, public health, and addiction experts have sounded alarms that the opioid crisis also has transitioned into a new and, especially for young and naïve drug users, increasingly deadly phase due to spiking use of fentanyl, the Washington Post reported. Fentanyl is a relatively easy to make, highly potent synthetic opioid. Criminal dealers have sought to increase the potency and popularity of their illicit wares — including supposedly less harmful products like street marijuana — by lacing them with fentanyl, which can be lethal in even the tiniest of doses.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by dangerous drugs, especially prescribed products like addictive painkillers from Big Pharma. The opioid crisis was fostered for years by Big Pharma, doctors, hospitals, insurers, and others in the U.S. health care system.

Even with major sums potentially flowing to efforts to battle opioids from parties implicated in this national nightmare, it is individuals and families across the country who are dealing with the overpowering grief caused by fatal overdoses, sometimes affecting multiple victims.

Parents, please: Talk to your youngsters, calmly and constantly, about the risks of illicit drugs. Let them know that if they have even the least inkling that they or anyone they know may have overdosed to seek out the reversal agent naloxone or Narcan, which authorities have sought to make more widely available — in schools, libraries, fire stations, and pharmacies.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will, as the nation’s prescription drug watchdog, “help facilitate the development and approval of certain nonprescription naloxone drug products, including through the switch of certain naloxone drug products from prescription status to nonprescription status.” This move, FDA officials said, will boost efforts to make naloxone even more widely available.

We have much work to do to quell the opioid crisis and to ensure that millions of people and their elected governments find justice and the practical and economic support they will need for a long time due to the awful damage done by harmful drugs.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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