The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the world’s biggest retailer Walmart Inc, accusing it of fueling the opioid crisis in the country.
The lawsuit which was filed in U.S. District Court in Delaware, alleges that Walmart continues to ignore warning signs from its pharmacists and keeps filling thousands of invalid prescriptions.
Walmart “unlawfully filled thousands upon thousands of invalid controlled-substance prescriptions,” the lawsuit said, adding that “for years, Walmart kept in place a system that it knew was failing to adequately detect and report suspicious orders.”
Walmart was also accused of creating a system that turned its 5,000 in-store pharmacies into a supplier of highly addictive painkillers, dating as early as June 2013.
Walmart’s “unlawful” actions helped “fuel a national crisis” and had “disastrous consequences,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division during a press briefing.
Timothy J. Shea, the new Acting Administrator of Drug Enforcement Administration said in a statement “when pharmacies routinely fill illegitimate prescriptions, we will hold accountable anyone responsible, including Walmart. Too many lives have been lost because of oversight failures and those entrusted with responsibility turning a blind eye.”
Walmart rejected the accusation, calling it a “transparent attempt to shift blame from the (Drug Enforcement Administration) well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place.”
Walmart said that “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.”
“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,” Walmart said.
Government data shows that opioid addiction epidemic has resulted in 450,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2018.
In August 2019, Oklahoma judge ordered drug manufacturing giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in a landmark opioid trial. The amount was later reduced to $465 million in November last year. The case was closely followed across the nation as there are currently more than 3,000 lawsuits filed by city, county and tribal governments in the United States against manufacturers, distributors and retailers of prescription painkillers.