Justice Department sues Walmart, blames retailer for role in opioid crisis

Walmart responded with a forceful statement, calling the suit 'tainted by historical ethics violations.'

The United States Department of Justice has filed a 160-page civil complaint against retail giant Walmart, alleging that the company played a role in fueling the nation’s opioid crisis. 

The complaint alleges the company filled millions of prescriptions for opioids, even though thousands of them were “suspicious.” 

The Justice Department’s complaint against Walmart alleges the superstore company filled millions of prescriptions for opioids, even though thousands of them were “suspicious.” (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Justice Department alleges that the system the superstore used to detect questionable prescriptions at its over 5,000 store pharmacies was “inadequate” and says many Walmart employees warned both federal authorities and company managers about the prescriptions. 

“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 Justice Department’s civil division, said in a statement

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“Instead, for years, it did the opposite,” said Bossert Clark, “filling thousands of invalid prescriptions at its pharmacies and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids and other drugs placed by those pharmacies.”

The lawsuit is the second against retailers for helping perpetuate the drug-addiction crisis. In May, a federal suit brought by two counties in Ohio named CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Giant Eagle, as well as Walmart, in its filing. 

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Walmart responded to the Justice Department suit with a forceful statement, calling it “tainted by historical ethics violations.” Company officials say “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.” 

“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,” their statement reads, “and we blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled at our pharmacies.”

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The retail giant sued the U.S. Department of Justice, outgoing Attorney General William Barr and the Drug Enforcement Administration back in October, asking a federal court to clarify the roles and responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies under the Controlled Substances Act.

In it, Walmart asserts, the DEA still has active registrations with 70 percent of the doctors who wrote prescriptions for opioids its store pharmacists should not have filled.

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