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Federal government sues Walmart over alleged role in fueling opioid crisis

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Posted at 11:20 AM, Dec 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-22 16:21:07-05

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is suing Walmart, alleging the company unlawfully dispensed controlled substances through its pharmacies, helping to fuel the opioid crisis in America.

That's according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person says the civil complaint points to the role Walmart’s pharmacies may have played in the crisis by filling opioid prescriptions and by unlawfully distributing controlled substances to the pharmacies during the height of the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit claims Walmart wanted to boost profits and pressured employees to fill prescriptions quickly, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Walmart knew that its distribution centers were using an inadequate system for detecting and reporting suspicious orders,” said Jason Dunn, the U.S. attorney in Colorado. “As a result of this inadequate system, for years Walmart reported virtually no suspicious orders at all. In other words, Walmart’s pharmacies ordered opioids in a way that went essentially unmonitored and unregulated.”

Walmart operates more than 5,000 pharmacies in its stores around the country.

The Justice Department’s action comes nearly two months after Walmart filed its own preemptive suit against the federal government.

Walmart's lawsuit at the time claimed the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration were trying to scapegoat the store for what Walmart says are the federal government's own regulation shortcomings, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Walmart issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

The Justice Department’s investigation is tainted by historical ethics violations, and this 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 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.

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.

By demanding pharmacists and pharmacies second-guess doctors, the Justice Department is putting pharmacists and pharmacies between a rock and a hard place with state health regulators who say they are already going too far in refusing to fill opioid prescriptions. Ultimately, patients are caught in the middle.

Walmart already sued the Department and DEA to stand up for our pharmacists, and we will keep defending our pharmacists as we fight this new lawsuit in court.