The Department of Justice on Tuesday announced a massive civil suit filed against Walmart for allegedly contributing to the country’s deadly opioid epidemic.
According to a DOJ media release regarding the lawsuit, Walmart “unlawfully dispensed controlled substances from pharmacies it operated across the country and unlawfully distributed controlled substances to those pharmacies throughout the height of the prescription opioid crisis.”
The Arkansas-based retail giant has 5,000 in-store pharmacies throughout the nation and is one of the country’s largest suppliers of potentially deadly and addictive painkillers, the suit claimed, as The Wall Street Journal reported.
“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,” the department said in its media release.
The DOJ called the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, the “result of a multi-year investigation by the department’s Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force.”
The suit alleged the retailer “knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes or in the usual course of medical practice, and that it filled prescriptions outside the ordinary course of pharmacy practice,” the news release said.
The complaint further alleged Walmart “received hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders that it failed to report as required to by the [Drug Enforcement Administration],” which “helped to fuel the prescription opioid crisis,” according to the DOJ release.
Roughly 50,000 deaths in 2019 were attributed to opioid overdoses, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing federal data.
Walmart could potentially face fines “of up to $67,627 for each unlawful prescription filled and $15,691 for each suspicious order not reported,” the DOJ said.
“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,” Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the acting assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Division, said in a statement.
“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.”
U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware David C. Weiss also had harsh words for the retailer.
“The misuse of prescription painkillers is a public health crisis,” he said. “DEA registrants must understand that licensure is a privilege, not a right. Whenever that privilege is abused, whether by the smallest local provider or the largest national chain, our office and the Department of Justice will take all necessary steps to enforce the law and keep the public safe.”
Walmart responded to the filing on Tuesday by alleging the DOJ lawsuit “invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context.”
“Blaming pharmacists for not second-guessing the very doctors [the 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,” the company said in a legal filing of its own, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Justice Department, at the direction of the Trump administration, has made a priority of combating the opioid crisis.
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