The Justice Department on Tuesday sued Walmart for the company’s alleged role in compounding the country’s opioid crisis by allowing its pharmacy network to fill millions of prescriptions for opioids, thousands of which authorities identified as suspicious.
The 160-page civil lawsuit alleges the retail giant knew its improper prescription detection system was inadequate, and listed numerous cases where Walmart’s own employees warned federal agencies and company executives of potentially suspicious prescriptions.
“As one of the largest pharmacy chains and drug wholesalers in the country, Walmart had the responsibility and the means to prevent the diversion of prescription opioids,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s civil division in a statement. “Instead, it has done the opposite for years – filling out thousands of invalid prescriptions in its pharmacies and not reporting suspicious orders for opioids and other drugs placed by those pharmacies.”
In one case, an employee identified only by their initials approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration had to fill out prescriptions that the employee knew were illegitimate.
At other times, Walmart pharmacists reported to the compliance department at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. That they had serious concerns about various prescribing doctors and identified them as pill mill doctors, the lawsuit says.
The government also said pharmacists filled out prescriptions for dosage amounts so large that the patient would likely have died if the pills had been taken as-delivered. Such prescriptions should have set red flags for every pharmacist, the department claimed.
Walmart preemptively denied the indictment in October in a lawsuit against the Trump administration, saying the government used the company as a scapegoat and blamed the opioid crisis on poor federal government enforcement. Walmart didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
“When drug diversion protection processes are violated or ignored, or when pharmacies routinely fill out improper prescriptions, we will hold everyone accountable, including Walmart,” Timothy Shea, acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in a statement.