Walmart has filed a lawsuit against the feds in an effort to get ahead of allegations that its pharmacies helped fuel the American opioid crisis.
The nation’s biggest retailer said the US Department of Justice has threatened to sue the company over claims that its pharmacists should not have filled otherwise valid prescriptions for opioid drugs.
But Walmart filed its own complaint Thursday accusing the government of putting pharmacists “between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’” by pressing them to interfere in relationships between doctors and patients, which has led to scrutiny from state health regulators.
“Walmart and our pharmacists are torn between demands from [the Drug Enforcement Administration] on one side and health agencies and regulators on the other, and patients are caught in the middle,” the Arkansas-based company, which runs more than 5,000 pharmacies around the US, said in a statement.
The lawsuit against the Justice Department and the DEA asks a Texas federal court to issue a declaration limiting pharmacists’ legal liability for filling prescriptions under the Controlled Substances Act and says the law doesn’t require them to “second-guess” doctors’ prescribing decisions.
The legal battle comes amid the feds’ efforts to hold big corporations accountable for the opioid overdose epidemic that killed nearly 450,000 people from 1999 to 2018.
Walmart’s complaint came a day after the Justice Department announced a sweeping settlement with Purdue Pharma that will see the bankrupt OxyContin maker plead guilty to three criminal charges.
Walmart says the feds are planning to bring a civil action against the company based on prescriptions its pharmacists filled for doctors whose scrips allegedly should have been rejected across the board. But almost 70 percent of the supposedly problematic doctors the authorities identified still have prescription privileges from the DEA, according to Walmart’s suit.
Federal prosecutors in Texas started investigating Walmart in December 2016 and told the company it would be indicted over opioid concerns in the spring of 2018, the complaint says. The Justice Department ultimately declined to prosecute the company in August 2018, but a civil investigation continued, according to the suit.
The Justice Department and the DEA both declined to comment. Walmart shares were down 0.1 percent at $143.34 as of 11:47 a.m. Friday.
With Post wires
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