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Opioid Drugs

The Government Files an Opioid-related Case Against Walmart

— January 4, 2021

The DOJ has filed a lawsuit against Walmart for its alleged involvement in the opioid epidemic.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a civil suit against well-known retailer Walmart for its alleged role in fueling the opioid crisis by allowing its pharmacies to fill millions of addictive opioid prescriptions without reporting suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  A lawsuit previously filed in federal court in May by two Ohio counties accused CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid pharmacies of contributing to the epidemic.  The Walmart case, brought at the federal level, is a significant step in holding these chains responsible.

“It has been a priority of this administration to hold accountable those responsible for the prescription opioid crisis.  As one of the largest pharmacy chains and wholesale drug distributors in the country, Walmart had the responsibility and the means to help prevent the diversion of prescription opioids,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division.  “Instead, for years, it did the opposite – filling thousands of invalid prescriptions at its pharmacies and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids and other drugs placed by those pharmacies.  This unlawful conduct contributed to the epidemic of opioid abuse throughout the United States.  Today’s filing represents an important step in the effort to hold Walmart accountable for such conduct.”

The Government Files an Opioid-related Case Against Walmart
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

“We entrust distributors and dispensers with the responsibility to ensure controlled substances do not fall into the wrong hands,” said DEA Acting Administrator Timothy Shea.  “When processes to safeguard against drug diversion are violated or ignored, or when pharmacies routinely fill illegitimate prescriptions, we will hold accountable anyone responsible, including Walmart.  Too many lives have been lost because of oversight failures and those entrusted with responsibility turning a blind eye.”

Walmart responded that the DOJ was “forcing retailers to second guess doctors and putting pharmacists and pharmacies between a rock and a hard place with state health regulators who say they are already going too far in refusing to fill opioid prescriptions.”

However, the government said there were “obvious red flags for years” with the lawsuit stating further, “Given the nationwide scale of those violations, Walmart’s failures to follow basic legal rules helped fuel a national crisis.”

Over the summer, the Norfolk County Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System of Detroit brought lawsuits against Walmart alleging it “mishandled opioid painkillers sold through its stores for years.”  Attorneys for the two pension funds also accused the retailer of failing to comply with laws requiring the monitoring of opioid sales and properly reporting suspicious orders.  The complaints further suggested Walmart “failed to implement basic compliance controls to protect its pharmacy and drug distribution business from being used as cover for the illegal dissemination of opioids.”

In the most recent case, Walmart has claimed the DOJ’s probe was “tainted by historical ethics violations” and “riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context.”  The retailer’s statement contended, “Blaming pharmacists for not second-guessing the very doctors the Drug Enforcement Administration approved to prescribe opioids is a transparent attempt to shift blame from DEA’s well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place.”


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