Opioid settlements fueling millions in new funding to fight drug addiction, overdoses

November 14-20, 2022

By The Daily Record Staff

Only days after Walmart and the nation’s other top pharmacies announced a global $15 billion settlement to resolve all lawsuits related to the nation’s opioid crisis, Arkansas officials launched a new partnership that will soon began disbursing millions of dollars from an earlier opioid litigation pact.

During a press conference on Nov. 4, representatives from the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership (ARORP) announced that $216 million in funding is now available for Arkansas organizations and programs addressing opioid misuse and addiction. The partnership, formed by the Association of Arkansas Counties and the Arkansas Municipal League, oversees the strategic disbursement of opioid settlement dollars at the city and county levels.

“This partnership represents wrongs made right, a significant step to abate the loss families and individuals have experienced due to opioid misuse and addiction. Every dollar received by Arkansas cities and counties will be dedicated to targeted, evidence-based solutions on a local level,” said ARORP Director Kirk Lane, who previously served as Arkansas State Drug Director.

At the Nov. 4 press briefing, ARORP also announced the appointment of Tenesha Barnes as assistant director of the new partnership. She will focus on policy development and strategic planning to ensure effective service delivery and outcomes for the new initiative. Together, Barnes and Lane will receive applications for opioid funding submitted via ARORP’s new website.

In 2018, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a lawsuit against the opioid manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Endo on behalf of the State of Arkansas. At the time, Hutchinson and Rutledge said they were united in their efforts to fight the opioid epidemic and will do everything in their power to bring an end to this deadly issue, including legal action against the companies responsible for the over-proliferation of opioids.

“The reckless actions of these opioid manufacturers have wreaked havoc upon Arkansas and her citizens for far too long,” said Rutledge at a press conference at the State Capitol. “The marketing schemes and misinformation campaigns utilized by Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Endo are irresponsible and downright dangerous. This is a multifaceted problem, and we must take every action to solve it including holding those companies accountable that are responsible for the opioid epidemic.”

Hutchinson, who is term-limited as governor at the end of 2022, said the opioid epidemic has devastated Arkansas and continues to cause lasting damage. The devastation began when opioid manufacturers intentionally misled the medical community and public about the dangers of opioids. These manufacturers propagated use of opioids as a non-addictive treatment for chronic pain, he said.

“Over the years, I have seen the drug fight as a community leader, as a member of Congress, as a federal prosecutor, as director of the DEA and now as governor,” Governor Asa Hutchinson said. “The opioid epidemic will not yield unless we continue taking critical steps to fight back. We have seen opioid abuse affect communities all across the country, including right here in Arkansas, and I am pleased that we are working to identify responsible partners who can make a difference in curtailing the abuse of opioids.”

In response, Rutledge joined thousands of state and local governments across the country in filing claims against the opioid manufacturers, including nearly 4,000 lawsuits in federal and state courts. Under an agreement reached in October 2021 and signed in February 2022, Arkansas will receive $216 million to fight the opioid crisis.

Nationally, the three distributors collectively will pay up to $21 billion over 18 years. The deal also calls for pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to pay up to $5 billion over nine years with up to $3.7 billion paid during the first three years.

In July 2021, Hutchinson, Rutledge and Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) Executive Director Chris Villines, and Arkansas Municipal League (AML) Director Mark Hayes all signed the Arkansas Opioids MOU. The MOU includes an equal one-third split of Arkansas settlement dollars among the state, counties and cities.

The earlier MOU does not involve a recent Nov. 2 agreement where Walmart, CVS and Walgreens agreed in principle to financial terms as part of settlement frameworks to substantially resolve opioid-related litigation.

In a news release, Walgreens said it expects to settle all opioid claims against it by participating states, subdivisions and tribes, for up to approximately $4.95 billion in remediation payments to be paid out over 15 years. The settlement frameworks include no admission of wrongdoing or liability by the company.

If all conditions are legally satisfied, CVS Health said it has agreed it will pay approximately $5 billion, including $4.9 billion to states and political subdivisions and approximately $130 million to tribes, over the next ten years beginning in 2023, depending on the number of governmental entities that agree to join the settlement.

According to Bloomberg News, Walmart has also agreed to pay $3 billion or more to settle opioid claims filed against the Bentonville grocery store operator. The Arkansas retail giant, which has nearly 5,000 pharmacies at Walmart locations across the U.S., has not commented on several reports concerning the multi-billion-dollar settlement. However, as recently as September, Walmart has pushed back at claims that it contributed to the nation’s opioid epidemic.

“Walmart is helping fight the opioid crisis. We are proud of our pharmacists, who help patients understand the risks about opioid prescriptions. And our pharmacists have refused to fill hundreds of thousands of opioid prescriptions they thought could be problematic,” Walmart said in a Sept. 6 statement. “On top of that, Walmart has blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled by any of our pharmacists, as part of our good-faith efforts to help address the opioid crisis.”

Walmart further stated that plaintiff-lawyer-driven lawsuits brought around the country against the Arkansas retailer and other pharmacies are misguided and dangerous to public health.

“In search of deep pockets, plaintiffs’ lawyers representing cities, counties and others are pushing a legal theory that pharmacies should be held responsible for the opioid crisis,” said Walmart. “In fact, courts around the country have rejected plaintiffs’ novel ‘public nuisance’ liability theories in lawsuits in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, California, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota. As the Wall Street Journal said, it makes no sense to punish pharmacies for ‘filling legal prescriptions for a legal substance for real patients from licensed doctors.’”

In the meantime, an appointed ARORP advisory board will soon begin reviewing funding applications and recommend which opioid-related programs and strategies should be funded consistently with approved purposes, settlement agreements, and court orders.

Funding opportunities through ARORP are ongoing, and therefore do not have submission deadlines, and should support public and private evidence-based projects. For more information about programs the Partnership will support, please read the funding guidelines at

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