Federal Lawsuit: Walmart Helped Fuel a National Crisis

Justice Department says company's pharmacies 'failed to follow basic legal rules'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 22, 2020 1:51 PM CST
Feds Sue Walmart Over Role in Opioid Crisis
A woman pulls groceries from a cart to her vehicle outside of a Walmart store in Pearl, Miss.   (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

The Justice Department is suing Walmart, alleging the company unlawfully dispensed controlled substances through its more than 5,000 pharmacies, helping to fuel the opioid crisis in America, reports the AP. Details of the allegations contained in the civil complaint being filed Tuesday:

  • The Justice Department alleges Walmart violated federal law by filling thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances that its pharmacists "knew were invalid." Federal law required Walmart to spot suspicious orders for controlled substances and report those to the Drug Enforcement Administration, but prosecutors charge the company didn’t do that.
  • "Walmart knew that its distribution centers were using an inadequate system for detecting and reporting suspicious orders," said Jason Dunn, the US attorney in Colorado. "As a result of this inadequate system, for years Walmart reported virtually no suspicious orders at all. In other words, Walmart's pharmacies ordered opioids in a way that went essentially unmonitored and unregulated."
  • The lawsuit points a finger at Walmart's compliance unit, which it paints as more interested in increasing sales than addressing drug abuse, reports the Wall Street Journal. That unit was tasked with overseeing all dispensing and, per the paper, allegedly "refused requests to give blanket rejections to suspect prescribers even when rival retailers already had done so."

The Justice Department’s lawsuit comes nearly two months after Walmart filed its own preemptive suit against the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr, and the DEA. In its lawsuit, Walmart said the Justice Department’s investigation—launched in 2016—had identified hundreds of doctors who wrote problematic prescriptions that Walmart’s pharmacists should not have filled. But the lawsuit charged that nearly 70% of the doctors still have active registrations with the DEA. Walmart’s lawsuit alleged the government was blaming it for the lack of regulatory and enforcement policies to stem the crisis. The company is asking a federal judge to declare the government has no basis to seek civil damages.

(Read more Walmart stories.)

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