The Department of Justice is alleging that Walmart broke the law and contributed to the prescription opioid crisis by filling thousands of invalid prescriptions and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids, according to the department's statement.
The Justice Department said the civil penalties it is seeking could total billions of dollars and injunctive relief.
The department's complaint, which was filed in US District Court for the District of Delaware Tuesday, alleges a multi-year investigation found Walmart had violated the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in multiple ways—both as an operator of its pharmacies and of its wholesale drug distribution centers.
"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 the Department's Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division Jeffrey Bossert Clark who alleged that Walmart for years "did the opposite."
In response, Walmart blasted the Justice Department for allegedly inventing "a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors" and using "cherry-picked documents taken out of context."
The Justice Department alleged that Walmart "knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes," at its pharmacies, according to the department's statement. In addition, the complaint cites Walmart's alleged failure to report hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Agency. The Justice Department noted that Walmart's distribution centers "ceased distributing controlled substances in 2018."
"In contrast to DEA's own failures, Walmart always empowered our pharmacists to refuse to fill problematic opioids prescriptions, and they refused to fill hundreds of thousands of such prescriptions," said Walmart in its statement. "Walmart sent DEA tens of thousands of investigative leads, and we blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled at our pharmacies."
The Justice Department has been pursuing companies it deems responsible for the nation's opioid crisis.
Two months ago, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to plead guilty to three federal criminal charges for its role in the widespread abuse of prescription painkillers. As part of that settlement, Purdue Pharma also agreed to pay more than $8 billion and close down the company.