Risk & Compliance

Justice Department Sues Walmart Over Opioid Prescriptions

The retail giant called the suit a "transparent attempt to shift blame" and vowed to defend itself in court.
Lauren MuskettDecember 23, 2020

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil complaint against Walmart over its role in the opioid crisis, alleging unlawful conduct by the company resulted in hundreds of thousands of violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

In a statement, the Justice Department said Walmart knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes. It also alleged that the company failed to report suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“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,” Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division Jeffrey Bossert Clark said. “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.

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The DOJ said Walmart faced civil penalties of $67,627 for each unlawful prescription filled and $15,691 for each suspicious order.

In a statement Walmart said the suit was an attempt to shift blame away from the DEA, which had failed to keep “bad doctors” from prescribing dangerous drugs improperly.

“The Justice Department’s investigation is tainted by historical ethics violations, and this 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,” the company said.

Walmart said it blocked thousands of questionable doctors and sent “tens of thousands” of investigative leads to the DEA.

In October, the DOJ announced it had resolved its criminal and civil investigations into Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family, makers of the powerful painkiller OxyContin. That settlement included $8 billion in penalties and guilty pleas to three felonies.

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