Walmart’s civil battle continues, but the chain will not be criminally charged for opioid overprescribing.
A prosecution team consisting of Joe Brown, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, Heather Ratton who had spent the majority of her career prosecuting drug cartels, and others, presented a case in Washington in October 2019 against Walmart pharmacies, claiming they had been dispensing opioids tied to prescriptions from known pill mills. They had done a thorough investigation of the chain’s prescribing practices and thought they had enough to move in forward, revealing evidence they’d gathered to acting DEA administrator, Uttam Dhillon.
The team found fatal overdoses had occurred in the state due to Walmart’s practices, and the pharmacists who dispensed those opioids had reported to corporate office they did not want to fill suspicious orders, yet nothing was done to stop it. Even as Kroger, Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens and Target started to refuse the scripts, Walmart continued dispensing.
Investigators touted physical records proving Walmart pharmacists all over the country were asking corporate to listen to concerns over prescribing practices without success. One Walmart employee said a Florida doctor had sent a “list of patients from Kentucky that have been visiting pharmacies in all of central Wisconsin.” The team discovered the physician had actually sent patients to thirty other states as well. And, yet, a compliance manager told an executive in an email, “Walmart’s focus should be on driving sales.”
After the presentation, Dhillon reportedly responded by asking “Why aren’t we talking about this as a criminal case?” So, that’s what they tried to do.
However, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove replied to the probe, “The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas (EDTX) engaged in misconduct multiple times as it investigated Walmart, including threatening to bring meritless criminal charges against Walmart in order to extort an unjustified civil settlement from the company. This behavior was clearly improper, violated the Department of Justice’s own internal policies and rules of legal ethics, and was entirely inconsistent with the Department’s long-standing policies.” He stated further, “It appears that one or more individuals familiar with EDTX’s investigation have violated Department of Justice rules in an attempt to achieve through leaks what they could not accomplish in a court of law.”
U.S. attorney, Brown, responded, “Drug Enforcement Agency investigations of multiple opioid overdose deaths in the Eastern District of Texas resulted in our office opening parallel civil and criminal investigations of Walmart’s pharmacy practices. These investigations have been handled appropriately, and according to Department of Justice policy.” He added, “These investigations, which we would typically not confirm or deny, but do so now because of Walmart’s statement, continue. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to comment further on the specific facts of the case. Walmart chooses now to attack the investigators, a tried and true method to avoid oversight. We are confident that once all of the facts in this matter are public the hollowness of this criticism will be apparent. It is not the goal of our office to embarrass Walmart. Walmart’s behavior in dispensing opioid medication in the middle of a public health crisis should embarrass Walmart.”
Four years after the investigation into prescribing practices first began, as COVID-ID continues to spread across the nation, civil negotiations ensue, yet criminal allegations have been dropped. What’s more, Trump recently stood beside Walmart and other pharmaceutical executives, calling them “celebrities in their own right” and the “greatest in the world” as they agreed to offered to provide testing on site for the virus.