The Justice Department is suing Walmart, alleging that the nation’s largest retailer knowingly filled thousands of problematic prescriptions that helped fuel the opioid crisis. A lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Delaware contends that Walmart failed to properly screen prescriptions, and prioritized speed and profit over patient well-being at its 5,000 pharmacies.
“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, acting assistant attorney general for the 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.”
“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.”
For example, when pharmacists reported problematic orders to the compliance unit, it did not share information about the prescribers more widely, according to the lawsuit. Walmart also did not respond to concerns from distribution staff that they did not have enough time to evaluate orders, it said.
This created a “defective” detection system, according to the lawsuit, which said Walmart reported just 204 “suspicious orders” to authorities over four years, out of an estimated 37.5m shipments. Prosecutors said Walmart “substantially benefited” from its actions, avoiding the expense of creating proper compliance procedures and profiting from the extra business – in some cases from so-called “pill mill” prescribers who steered their patients to the firm’s stores.
The government is seeking financial penalties for the alleged misconduct, which it said dated to 2013. It said the fines could amount to “billions of dollars”.