Retail giant Walmart Inc. is facing a civil lawsuit from the Department of Justice alleging the company “unlawfully dispensed” controlled substances, including opioids “throughout the height of the prescription opioid crisis.” Walmart has pledged to fight the lawsuit.
According to a news release, the DOJ alleges Walmart, which operates over 5,000 pharmacies nationwide, violated the Controlled Substances Act “hundreds of thousands” of times.
The DOJ says Walmart “knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes or in the usual course of medical practice, and that it filled prescriptions outside the ordinary course of pharmacy practice.”
The complaint further alleges that “as the operator of its distribution centers, which ceased distributing controlled substances in 2018, Walmart received hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders that it failed to report as required to by the DEA.”
In combination, these failures “helped to fuel the prescription opioid crisis,” according to the DOJ.
Penalties could be billions of dollars
If found liable, Walmart could end up paying billions of dollars in civil penalties, with a maximum of $67,000 per unlawful prescription filled and $15,000 for each suspicious prescription it failed to report.
“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, acting assistant attorney general of the Civil Division, in a news release.
“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," Clark said. "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.”
In a statement, Walmart said the lawsuit “is riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context” and that the DOJ is attempting “to shift blame from DEA’s well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2018 an average of 128 people in the U.S. died daily from opioid overdose. The cost of the crisis was estimated to be $78.5 billion per year.