The US government accused Walmart Inc. of fueling a nationwide opioid crisis by ignoring warnings from its own pharmacists that the chain was not properly set up to screen painkillers that violate federal regulations.
The complaint filed in Delaware on Tuesday comes two months after the world’s largest retailer filed its own case in Texas, accusing the U.S. of scapegoating Walmart for the government’s failure to deal with the crisis. Over the past two decades, more than 400,000 deaths by Americans have been linked to legal and illegal opioids.
In the new case, the US claims that the retailer wanted to increase profits with a system designed to make it nearly impossible for overworked retail pharmacists to catch red flags about overloaded painkillers. Walmart is in the unusual position of serving as a distributor of opioid drugs for its own stores.
“Given the nationwide scale of those violations, Walmart’s failure to comply with basic legal rules helped fuel a national crisis,” the US said in the complaint filed in federal court in Wilmington.
The suit is a blow to Walmart after it recently began opening its own low-cost health clinics, with plans to expand in Georgia and Chicago. The retailer is also entering the insurance industry, saying it would start selling Medicare plans in October through its own licensed brokerage, Walmart Insurance Services.
“The Department of Justice investigation has been tarnished by historical ethical violations, and this lawsuit devises a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to get between patients and their doctors, and is rife with factual inaccuracies and handpicked documents out of context Walmart said in an emailed statement.
Shares of Walmart fell to the news, closing 1.2% lower at $ 144.20 on Tuesday.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company has already been the target of more than 2,000 lawsuits filed by states, cities, and counties, alleging that the retailer is deliberately turning a blind eye to doctors’ suspicious prescription of painkillers and benefiting from opioid addictions and overdoses . The US lawsuit puts pressure on the company.
Walmart and pharmacy chains such as Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. are facing trial in federal court in Cleveland next year over the allegations. The case was set for November, but has been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak.
The spate of lawsuits has prompted at least three makers of opioid-based painkillers to seek bankruptcy protection to settle the lawsuits. One of them, Purdue Pharma, also pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the illegal marketing of its pain reliever OxyContin. Members of the billionaire Sackler family – who owns Purdue – also agreed to pay $ 225 million to personally settle potential civil claims against them.
Opioid Distributors McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp – along with ex-opioid maker Johnson & Johnson – have negotiated a proposed $ 26 billion settlement with a group of attorneys general suing to recoup billions in tax dollars spent on the opioid. of an epidemic. That deal has yet to be finalized.
In their lawsuit, attorneys at Justice Department allege that Walmart executives have set up a system that has turned the 5,000 in-store pharmacies into one of the largest providers of highly addictive opioid painkillers in the country. The chain used low prices to lure customers and then demanded that pharmacists speed up the pace of filling out prescriptions, leaving little time for proper checks, according to the pack.
Federal law requires companies handling controlled drugs to collect information about doctor’s prescriptions to make it easier for pharmacists to spot so-called “red flags,” including outrageous orders from medical practices informally known as pill factories.
Although Walmart collected such data, it did not share information about “problem prescribers” with its pharmacists or federal regulators and ignored their staff’s warnings about such practices, the Justice Department said in the lawsuit.
“As a drug wholesaler, Walmart was required to notify” federal regulators “of suspicious orders of controlled substances,” Acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth DuCharme said in a statement. His office was involved in putting the suit together. “Walmart has failed to fulfill both of its obligations and is therefore not responsible for preventing the misuse of controlled substances,” he added.
Attorneys for the Texas Department of Justice had launched a criminal investigation into Walmart’s handling of opioid painkillers and were ready to press charges, media reports said. But top officials at the Justice Department decided in 2018 to file a criminal case and a lawsuit instead.
The case is U.S. v. Salmonart Inc., 20-cv-1744, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).
–With the help of Leslie Patton and Christopher Yasiejko.
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