DOJ Sues Walmart For Fueling Opioid Crisis

( Walmart is facing a lawsuit from the Department of Justice in connection with America’s opioid crisis.

The DOJ announced the lawsuit this week that alleges Walmart helped fuel the crisis by distributing controlled substances in an illegal way from its pharmacies located around the country.

One of the main accusations is a claim by the DOJ that, for years, pharmacies in Walmart filled thousands of opioid prescriptions without requiring investigation and care. This included pharmacists knowingly issuing prescriptions they knew were suspect in nature.

The DOJ lawsuit also alleges Walmart failed to detect hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders for opioids, which they should have reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration. They did so, the DOJ alleges, even though the company knew its systems of internal monitoring were “grossly inadequate.”

In a statement, Walmart said the DOJ’s investigation is “tainted by historical ethics violations.” The lawsuit itself also “invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors,” the company said.

According to Walmart’s statement, the lawsuit 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.”

The DOJ, though, has a completely different stance in the matter. Talking on Tuesday at a press briefing, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the acting chief of the DOJ’s Civil Division, said:

“Walmart had important gatekeeping responsibilities to ensure that prescription opioids and other controlled substances were used legitimately and not abused. But in both roles Walmart violated the law and Walmart’s unlawful conduct, which occurred nationwide, had disastrous consequences and harmed the many individuals who filled their prescriptions at Walmart and then abused the drug, and it helped fuel a national crisis.”

One of the main allegations the DOJ outlined in the complaint has to do with Florida “pill mill” doctors. The complaint says these doctors give prescriptions to thousands of people improperly. They are then told to fill those scripts at Walmart, because they knew other pharmacies wouldn’t accept the scripts and fill them.

Officials with the DOJ didn’t specific why they didn’t bring any criminal charges against Walmart in conjunction with the civil suit that they filed. Still, they didn’t rule out that criminal charges could eventually be sought in the future.

Walmart has known that an investigation was ongoing for some time now. Back in October, they actually filed a lawsuit of their own against the DOJ and the DEA. That suit was seeking clarity from the two agencies for their pharmacists who dispense prescription opioids.

Walmart commented that it sued both the DOJ and DEA “to stand up for our pharmacists, and we will keep defending our pharmacists as we fight this new lawsuit in court.”

In October of this year, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty as part of an $8.3 billion opioid settlement. They are the makers of OxyContin. As part of the plea, they admitted to enabling the supply of the drug “without legitimate medical purpose.”