The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Walmart for its alleged role in the opioid crisis.
The Justice Department filed the civil complaint on Tuesday, claiming Walmart distributed controlled substances through its pharmacies, adding to the destructive opioid crisis in America. The company operates more than 5,000 pharmacies in its stores across the nation, CNBC reports.
In the 160-page legal document, the Justice Department accuses Walmart of breaking federal law by selling thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances that its pharmacists “knew were invalid,” said Jeffrey Clark, the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s civil division. CNBC reports that federal law requires Walmart to point out suspicious orders for controlled substances and report them to the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, prosecutors claim the company never did that.
“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.”
In response to the suit, Walmart sent a statement to The Associated Press, claiming the Justice Department’s probe is “tainted by historical ethics violations.” It said the “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 says that it actually did advise pharmacists not to fill certain opioid prescriptions, saying there were hundreds of thousands of prescriptions the company refused to fill. Also, Walmart said it sent the Drug Enforcement Administration tens of thousands of investigative leads and that it cut off sketchy doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled.
This lawsuit is the latest move in an ongoing case between the Justice Department and Walmart. The Justice Department launched an investigation into the company back in 2016, which prompted Walmart to sue them, Attorney General William Barr and the Drug Enforcement Administration. In its initial suit, Walmart claimed that it identified hundreds of questionable doctors who wrote problematic prescriptions that Walmart decided not to fill. It added that 70 percent of those questionable doctors still have active registrants with the DEA.
“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 company said in its statement.