The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Bentonville-based Walmart on Tuesday, (Dec. 22) claiming the retail giant and its pharmacists did not properly screen opioid prescriptions, and the lack of oversight contributed to the ongoing U.S. controlled substance crisis.
The complaint alleges that this unlawful conduct resulted in hundreds of thousands of violations of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Justice Department seeks civil penalties, which could total in the billions of dollars, and injunctive relief, according to the release. The federal government is seeking billions in dollars in civil penalties which could be more than $67,000 per for each unlawful prescription.
“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 of the DOJ. “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.”
Walmart fired back against those allegations calling them “inaccurate and misguided.” Walmart said the DOJ investigation is tainted by historical ethics violations, and the lawsuit invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors. Walmart maintains it is helping to fight the opioid crisis and the company will vigorously defend its position in court.
“It is riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context. Blaming pharmacists for not second-guessing the very doctors the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 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,” Walmart noted in its corporate statement.
Walmart said in contrast to the DEA’s own failures, Walmart always empowered its pharmacies to refuse to fill problematic opioid prescriptions and they did refuse to fill hundreds of thousands of such prescriptions. Walmart said it also sent the DEA “tens of thousands of investigative leads, and we blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled at our pharmacies.”
Walmart filed a lawsuit against the DOJ and the Drug Enforcement Administration in October, standing up for its pharmacists and asking the federal agency and court to clarify the roles and responsibilities of pharmacies under the Controlled Substance Act.