Walmart was sued by the Justice Department on Tuesday, accused of fueling the nation’s opioid crisis by allowing its pharmacies to fill millions of prescriptions, thousands of which authorities deemed suspicious.
In a 160-page civil complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, the federal government alleges that Walmart knew its system for detecting questionable prescriptions was inadequate, The New York Times reported. The complaint also alleges that the retail giant also prioritized speed and profit over patient well-being at its 5,000 pharmacies, according to The Washington Post. Specifically, the suit alleges that Walmart worked to boost profits by understaffing its 5,000 pharmacies and pressuring employees to fill them quickly, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“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. “Instead, for years, it did the opposite — filling thousands of invalid prescriptions at its pharmacies and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids and other drugs placed by those pharmacies.”
Justice Department officials also claimed that for years, Walmart ignored “glaringly obvious red flags.”
The lawsuit was not a surprise. Walmart denied the charges in October in a suit against the Trump administration, saying the company was being held up as a scapegoat, the Times reported. In its answer to Tuesday’s lawsuit, Walmart said the Justice Department action “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] 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,” Walmart said, adding that it “always empowered our pharmacists to refuse to fill problematic opioids prescriptions, and they refused to fill hundreds of thousands of such prescriptions.”