Walmart Joins The Growing List Of Opioid Settlements

On Tuesday, Walmart joined the growing list of companies settling with state, local, and tribal governments over its pharmacies’ involvement in the Opioid epidemic, which has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans since 1999. The second-largest retailer in the world agreed to pay $3.1 billion to resolve thousands of lawsuits accusing Walmart of failing to adequately oversee the dispensing of prescription Opioid medications at its pharmacies.

This tentative settlement follows an announcement made earlier this month that CVS Health and Walgreens Co., the two largest pharmacy chains, will pay a combined $10 billion settlement. While Walmart is not paying the most in its settlement, it will be providing the funds faster than the other pharmacy giants, with most of the funds going out within the first year. Walmart will pay the remainder in payments through 2028. 

Where Will The Opioid Settlement Go?

Walmart’s proposed settlement will be divided across several states, including Indiana and Iowa, and all federally recognized tribes. Indiana, which the Opioid epidemic has considerably impacted, is expected to receive $53 million, according to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. Iowa is expected to receive $19.9 million, and Native American tribes will receive $78 million. Before Walmart’s plan can take effect, it needs to be approved by 43 states by December 15, and local governments can sign onto the plan until March 31, 2023. 

While the root cause of Opioid-related overdose deaths and addiction is diverse, there are common public health or socioeconomic themes that exacerbate the issue, like financial and housing instability and untreated mental health issues. To address a wide array of issues contributing to the Opioid crisis, the funds from these settlements will go toward wide-reaching harm-reduction programs, treatment programs, and drug policies. However, it is up to the state and local governments and Native American tribes to allocate the funds.

Studies suggest that one of the most effective ways to reduce Opioid-related harms is to provide individuals with access to treatment. Treatment for Opioid abuse can include a variety of treatment facilities, like inpatient or outpatient treatment, and medications for Opioid abuse. Local governments, states, and Native American tribes can allocate the settlement money to create or renovate substance abuse treatment facilities and educational programs. The funds can also help rebuild the communities directly impacted by prescription Opioids by ensuring equitable resource distribution, as the Opioid epidemic has hit many underserved communities. To avoid the previous pitfalls of governments using Tobacco settlement funds for unrelated uses in the 90s, today’s Opioid settlements have been designed to be used to fight the crisis and rebuild communities. 

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Why Is The Opioid Crisis So Pervasive In The US?

As we understand it today, the Opioid epidemic has occurred in 3 waves in the US. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), the first wave occurred in the 1990s when doctors began overprescribing prescription Opioids because pharmaceutical companies told them that the pills were less addictive than Painkiller alternatives. We now know that Opioids are incredibly addictive, and overdose deaths involving prescription Opioids (i.e., Natural and Semisynthetic Opioids and Methadone) have increased since 1999. 

The second wave of rapid overdose deaths involved Heroin in 2010. The third wave, which is where the US is currently, began in 2013. The CDC has reported a significant increase in overdose deaths involving Synthetic Opioids (particularly those involving illicitly manufactured Fentanyl). In fact, the Synthetic Opioid-related overdose death rate was 18 times higher in 2020 than in 2013. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than Heroin, but drug dealers still combine the substance with Heroin, counterfeit pills, and Cocaine to increase potency, cut costs, and boost profits. If an individual unknowingly takes a substance cut with Fentanyl, they could potentially overdose, which could be fatal. 

The community harm that came from the over-prescription of Opioids and the exposure to illicit Opioids in the US is what the funds from the Walmart, CVS Health, and Walgreen Co. settlements aim to reduce and heal. The Walmart agreement also included court-ordered requirements to monitor prescriptions closely to reduce “pill-mill doctors” and prevent patients from seeking multiple prescriptions for Opioids. New requirements would also include flagging suspicious prescriptions. 

Rebuilding Communities And Pursuing Treatment

As the Opioid epidemic continues, time will tell how the settlement funds provided by some of the world’s largest retailers, drugmakers, and distribution companies will be utilized by the state, local, and Native American tribal governments. The Opioid crisis has caused over 500,000 deaths over 20 decades, and the hope is that settlement funds (totaling over $50 billion now) can begin to change the course of this deadly epidemic.     

Prescription Opioid abuse makes up a relatively small portion of the issue nationally, but it still impacts thousands of individuals daily. Individuals can fight the Opioid crisis in their personal lives as well by pursuing treatment for Opioid abuse. Attending treatment can feel daunting, but receiving treatment is the most significant act of kindness you can provide for yourself.  If you or a loved one is experiencing substance abuse, contact a treatment provider today.

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Carmen McCrackin

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  • Carmen McCrackin earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Auburn and is a professional writer. Her passion for writing and educating others led her to a career in journalism with a focus on mental health and social justice topics. Her main mission is to be a platform for all voices and stories, and to provide tangible resources to those seeking recovery for themselves or loved ones.

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