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Justice Department Sues Walmart, Saying it Fueled Opioid Crisis

Walmart pharmacists in the Sarasota, Fla., area alerted the compliance unit about one doctor they described as “shady.” Some of his patients would come into the pharmacy slurring their words and showed signs of “narcotic abuse.” One pharmacist worried that a prescription from that doctor for oxycodone, methadone, Soma and Valium was a “cocktail of abuse.”

Despite these concerns, between 2014 and 2018, Walmart filled more than 3,500 “controlled-substance prescriptions” for this doctor. The doctor no longer has a medical license, according to the lawsuit.

The government also said pharmacists had filled prescriptions for doses so large that if the pills were taken as dispensed the patient would have most likely died. Walmart, according to the lawsuit, also filled prescriptions from well-known “pill mills” even when warned that these doctors were known to overprescribe.

The Justice Department said Walmart had shirked its responsibilities not only as a pharmacy dispensing pills to its customers but as a major drug distributor to its own pharmacies, obligated to report suspicious prescriptions to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Given the nationwide scale of those violations, Walmart’s failures to follow basic legal rules helped fuel a national crisis,” the lawsuit stated.

Walmart pre-emptively denied the charges in October in a suit against the Trump administration, saying the company was being used as a scapegoat and blaming the opioid crisis on what it called the federal government’s own weak enforcement.

In its statement on Tuesday, Walmart said the Justice Department’s investigation was “tainted by historical ethics violations” and “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 D.E.A.’s well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place,” the retailer said.

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