Connecticut joins Walmart opioid settlement

Connecticut has joined a $3.1 billion multi-state settlement with Walmart to resolve claims the retail giant’s pharmacies helped fuel a nationwide opioid epidemic.

The company proposed the settlement on Tuesday, announcing it has reached a tentative deal with more than 40 states to resolve allegations that it improperly dispensed OxyContin, and other powerful prescription opioids at its retail pharmacies.

It's not clear how much money Connecticut will get from the settlement payout, which still needs to be approved by a federal judge, but the payout will be shared with cities and towns, according to the Attorney General William Tong's office.

Tong said the money will be used to provide treatment and recovery services to people struggling with opioid use disorder.

"Walmart pharmacies dispensed massive quantities of opioids into communities across Connecticut and nationwide," Tong said in a statement. "Their actions fueled the addiction crisis and caused unparalleled suffering and loss."

Tong pointed out that the settlement includes court-ordered requirements to tightly monitor opioid prescriptions and crack down on so-called 'pill-mill' doctors.

But the settlement doesn't require Walmart to admit any liability, and in a statement the company said it "strongly disputes" the allegations in the federal lawsuits filed by state and local governments that its pharmacists improperly filled prescriptions for powerful painkillers.

"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 Arkansas-based company said.

Attorneys general from Connecticut and 15 other states, including North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, California, Colorado, Delaware and Texas were lead negotiators in the litigation.

The Walmart settlement is the latest litigation against many of the nation's largest drug manufacturers and distributors over their alleged role in the opioid crisis.

Two weeks ago, CVS and Walgreens said they have agreed to pay about $10 billion to local, state and tribal governments to resolve thousands of lawsuits claiming their pharmacies mishandled painkiller opioids.

Earlier this year, states reached a $26-billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson, and three of the nation’s largest drug distributors to resolve claims by states and local governments that the companies helped fuel a wave of addiction.

For many, opioid addiction has its roots in prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, which led them to street-bought heroin and the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, once the more expensive pills ran out.

There were 1,524 confirmed or suspected opioid-related deaths in Connecticut in 2021—more than 10% higher than in 2020, according to a report by the state Department of Public Health. Fentanyl was present in 86% of the overdose deaths where a toxicology report was available, state officials noted.

Nationwide, opioid overdose deaths increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"One by one, we will hold every player in the addiction industry accountable," Tong said. "We are bringing tens of billions of dollars back into communities to support treatment and recovery, and to save lives."

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