Walmart became the third big chain store in November to announce a multi-billion-dollar settlement to resolve opioid lawsuits filed by state and local governments. The Nov. 15 announcement by the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail giant said that Walmart would be willing to pay $3.1 billion to settle claims that it failed to curb the dispensing of opioid drugs at its pharmacies throughout the country.

Walmart’s settlement offer follows similar moves by CVS Health and Walgreens Co., both of which announced settlement plans of $5 billion on Nov. 2, the Associated Press reported

The settlement by Walmart may indicate that the massive opioid litigation saga is nearing an end now that most drug manufacturers, drug distributors and chain pharmacies have reached settlement agreements with state, local and tribal governments. 

Walmart and other pharmacy chains have been accused of significantly contributing to the opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in more than 68,000 overdose deaths in 2020. An estimated 500,000 people have died from opioid overdoses over the last two decades. Over the last few years, opioid overdoses have reached record levels at approximately 80,000 per year. 

As part of the settlement agreement, which was reached with several state attorneys general, Walmart will not have to admit to any wrongdoing or liability. In comparison to other pharmacy chains, some attorneys general suggested that Walmart was not as irresponsible in how it filled opioid prescriptions. 

Nebraska’s AG, Doug Peterson, said that Walmart “filled significantly fewer prescriptions for opioids than CVS or Walgreens, [and] since 2018, Walmart has been the most proactive in trying to monitor and control prescription opioid diversion attempted through its pharmacies.”

The $3.1 billion settlement deal still has to be finalized, which is contingent upon 43 states approving the plan. If the plan moves forward, attorneys for local governments suggested that Walmart would pay the settlement within the next year.

The CVS and Walgreens settlements are also not done deals. A super-majority of states must first approve them.

More than $50 billion in opioid settlements has been reached. Due to greater oversight as a result of the litigation, opioid prescription drug deaths have recently accounted for a small percentage of all overdose deaths. Opioid drug overdoses are now more likely to occur from illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. 

“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.