Walmart could pay the state of Washington millions to settle opioid claims.
Walmart reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) after being sued in December 2020 for the company’s role in the opioid crisis. Of the $3.1 billion in settlement money, $62.6 million will go to Washington state so long as a total of 43 states and 85% of local governments join the resolution.
If the resolution passes, the remainder of the billion-dollar settlement will be divided among state, county, and city governments across the nation. The money will go toward opioid treatment, recovery, and abatement, with exact plans to be determined by the individual governments. As a part of the resolution, Walmart will be required to closely monitor opioid prescriptions in order to prevent patients from acquiring multiple prescriptions as they had been able to do in the past.
Until 2018, Walmart had been a wholesale distributor of controlled substances for its own pharmacies. With over 5,000 pharmacies across the country, the company had a direct impact in thousands of communities. As such, the company’s violation of the Controlled Substances Act had catastrophic and far-reaching effects.
The civil suit filed by the DOJ in 2020 claimed Walmart “knowingly violated well established rules requiring it to scrutinize controlled-substance prescriptions to ensure that they were valid–that is, issued by prescribers in a legitimate manner for legitimate purposes, not for purposes of abuse or other diversion.”
The company made it difficult for pharmacists to abide by federal regulations by pressuring them to fill large numbers of prescriptions as quickly as possible—as early as 2013, Walmart had put a policy in place that rewarded pharmacists who filled the highest volume of prescriptions with monetary incentives.
Walmart also denied pharmacists the authority to refuse to fill prescriptions even if they knew prescribers with a history of invalid prescriptions had issued them. This meant so-called “pill mills,” health clinics that indiscriminately prescribe opioids without sufficient medical documentation, could count on Walmart to fill invalid prescriptions.
Authorities even reported that some of these “pill mills” specifically told individuals to go to Walmart to fill their prescriptions. It certainly did not help that Walmart withheld information from their pharmacists about “red flag” individuals who had a history of trying to fill invalid prescriptions.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led the coalition of attorneys general in the settlement negotiation with Walmart, is optimistic that the needed number of states and local governments will pass the resolution by the end of 2022. This will allow local governments to join the deal starting in 2023.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson also stated, “This is another important step in our fight for accountability for the opioid industry. These resources will increase prevention efforts and help Washingtonians in need.”
Walmart is not the only company to recently face repercussions for its role in the opioid epidemic. On December 12th, Walgreens and CVS reached a combined settlement of $10.7 billion. So far, Washington state has recovered over $800 million from companies with a hand in fueling the opioid crisis.