Walmart Sued By US Over Alleged Role In Fueling The Opioid Crisis
The US Department of Justice is suing Walmart for allegedly contributing to the prescription opioid crisis.
In a complaint filed in the US District Court for the District of Delaware on Tuesday, December 22, the department claimed Walmart violated the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in multiple ways over a number of years.
The company is accused of breaking the law both as an operator of its pharmacies and of its wholesale drug distribution centers as it allegedly failed to report hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The wrongdoings are said to have been identified through a multi-year investigation, which also claims to have found that Walmart ‘knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes’ at its pharmacies.
Walmart is accused of pressuring staff to fill prescriptions as fast as possible and withholding from pharmacists information which indicated such orders did not have valid medical purposes, BBC News reports.
The company allegedly also did not respond to concerns from distribution staff that they did not have enough time to evaluate the orders they had to fulfill. In turn, the lawsuit claims, this created a ‘defective’ system which saw just 204 ‘suspicious orders’ being reported to authorities over four years, out of an estimated 37.5 million shipments.
Walmart is said to have ‘substantially benefitted’ from its actions as it avoided the expense of creating appropriate compliance procedures.
In the complaint, the Justice Department noted that Walmart’s distribution centers ‘ceased distributing controlled substances in 2018.’
Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the Department’s Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division, described Walmart as ‘one of the largest pharmacy chains and wholesale drug distributors in the country’, pointing out that it therefore ‘had the responsibility and the means to help prevent the diversion of prescription opioids.’
Instead, CNN Business reports, Clark claims Walmart ‘did the opposite’ for a number of years.
Walmart has refuted the claims and accused the Justice Department of inventing ‘a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors’ and using ‘cherry-picked documents taken out of context.’
In a statement, Walmart said:
In contrast to DEA’s own failures, Walmart always empowered our pharmacists to refuse to fill problematic opioids prescriptions, and they refused to fill hundreds of thousands of such prescriptions.
Walmart sent DEA tens of thousands of investigative leads, and we blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled at our pharmacies.
The company claimed the department’s filing is ‘riddled with factual inaccuracies’. The Justice Department is seeking civil penalties which could total billions of dollars and injunctive relief.