The Trump administration sued Walmart Inc., accusing the retail giant of helping fuel the opioid crisis by inadequately screening for questionable prescriptions despite warnings from its own pharmacists, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Justice Department lawsuit claims Walmart sought to boost profits by understaffing pharmacies and pressuring employees to fill prescriptions quickly. That made it difficult for pharmacists to reject invalid prescriptions, enabling widespread drug abuse, the suit alleges. Walmart responded by saying the lawsuit “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. Walmart has been expecting the complaint and sued the federal government in October to fight the allegations pre-emptively. That suit accuses the Justice Department and DEA of attempting to scapegoat the company for the federal government’s own regulatory and enforcement shortcomings. The DOJ lawsuit alleges Walmart created a system that turned its 5,000 in-store U.S. pharmacies into a leading supplier of highly addictive painkillers. The allegations date to June 2013. “Many of these prescription drugs would never have hit the streets if Walmart pharmacies had complied with their obligations,” said Maria Chapa Lopez, U.S. Attorney in Tampa. Walmart started with cut-rate prices on opioids that drove shoppers to its stores, the government alleges. Middle managers pressured pharmacists to work faster, the suit says, believing quick-fill prescriptions drew customers to keep shopping.