Walmart Sued By Department of Justice For Its Role In Fueling The Opioid Crisis


The world’s largest retailer, Walmart, faces billions of dollars in penalties in a lawsuit filed yesterday by the DOJ.

DOJ is suing Walmart for allegedly unlawfully dispensing and distributing prescription opioids, and committing hundreds of thousands of violations of the Controlled Substances Act. According to a release published by the DOJ, the Justice Department seeks civil penalties, which could total in the billions of dollars, and injunctive relief.

The Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division said in the release, “It has been a priority of this administration to hold accountable those responsible for the prescription opioid crisis.  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,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark.  “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.  This unlawful conduct contributed to the epidemic of opioid abuse throughout the United States.  Today’s filing represents an important step in the effort to hold Walmart accountable for such conduct,” added Bossert Clark. 

Despite the lawsuit, according to The Defender, because the action holds no individuals liable for criminal behavior, it’s unlikely to have much long-term impact. 

Mary Holland, General Counsel for The Children’s Health Defense Fund, which publishes The Defender, said of the timing of the lawsuit, “Sadly … this case is too late for the more than 750,000 people in the U.S. who died of drug overdoses since 1999.”

Holland predicts Walmart “will continue to engage in illegal but profitable activities as part of their business model until they bear true individual liability for wrongdoing.”

The DOJ complaint alleges that Walmart pharmacies “knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes … and that it filled prescriptions outside the ordinary course of pharmacy practice.”

Walmart is accused by the DOJ of fueling the prescription opioid crisis by receiving “hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders that it failed to report” as required by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Should Walmart be found liable for violating the Controlled Substance Act, it may face civil penalties of up to $67,627 for each unlawful prescription filled and $15,691 for each suspicious order not reported. In addition, Walmart may be prevented by the court via an injunction from committing further violations of the CSA.
For its part, Walmart said in a statement, “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.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 2020 witnessed the highest number of overdose deaths ever in any 12-month period in the U.S. 

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