Was Walmart responsible for vetting opioid prescriptions?
The Trump administration on Tuesday sued Walmart for helping fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic by ignoring suspicious prescriptions. The retailer’s counterargument: the vetting of prescriptions lies primarily with the physician, not the pharmacy.
“Blaming pharmacists for not second-guessing the very doctors the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 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 in response to the lawsuit.
The 160-page civil complaint, however, cites numerous incidents in which Walmart’s employees came to managers and federal authorities with “glaringly obvious red flags” about questionable prescriptions that Walmart failed to report as required to the DEA. The alleged poor screening was blamed on understaffed pharmacies and pressure on pharmacists to fill prescriptions quickly.
The suit seeks penalties that could add up to billions for thousands of violations.
“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 Justice Department’s civil division, in a statement. “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.”
Litigation around the opioid crisis that has killed more than 400,000 Americans during the past two decades has shifted from doctors and manufacturers to pharmacy chains’ roles as both distributors and dispensers of painkillers.
In October, Walmart preemptively sued, charging justice officials were “more focused on chasing headlines than fixing the [opioid] crisis.”
On Tuesday, Walmart insisted it blocked thousands of questionable prescriptions and claimed that the federal investigation was “riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context.”
The retailer stated, “By demanding pharmacists and pharmacies second-guess doctors, the Justice Department is putting pharmacists and pharmacies between a rock and a hard place with state health regulators who say they are already going too far in refusing to fill opioid prescriptions. Ultimately, patients are caught in the middle.”
- Department of Justice Files Nationwide Lawsuit Against Walmart Inc. for Controlled Substances Act Violations – U.S. Department of Justice
- Walmart Statement in Response to DOJ Lawsuit – Walmart
- U.S. Sues Walmart, Alleging Role in Fueling Opioid Crisis – Wall Street Journal
- Justice Dept. Accuses Walmart of Fueling Opioid Crisis – New York Times
- Justice Department sues Walmart, alleging it helped fuel opioid crisis – Washington Post
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: To what degree are pharmacies responsible for questionable prescriptions? Are there extra steps or procedures that retailers can take to resolve such conflicts between the pharmacists and the doctor-patient relationship?