U.S. DOJ Sues Walmart For Its Part in the Opioid Crisis

The Justice Department alleges that Walmart violated federal law by selling thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances that its pharmacists “knew were invalid,” said Jeffrey Clark, the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s civil division.

The Department of Justice has brought charges to Walmart, purporting the retail king played a significant role in America’s opioid crisis. The lawsuit alleges that lack of adequate staff at Walmart pharmacies and manager pressure enabled the fulfillment of suspicious orders on a wide scale. 

Per the suit, these decisions, which the DOJ asserts were motivated by profit, led to Walmart slanging these drugs illegitimately—a violation of the Controlled Substances Act—and thus played an integral role in the opioid crisis. Walmart Jumps Into Self-Driving Vehicle Space

Walmart wasted little time retaliating by firing back at the agency. It says the lawsuit “invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors,” and that its pharmacists had in fact refused to fill “hundreds of thousands” of problematic prescriptions.

Walmart said it has “always empowered our pharmacists to refuse to fill” prescriptions.

The charges, and Walmart’s response, isn’t much of a perplexity. This past fall, Walmart sued the DOJ for more clarity on the role of pharmacies and their employees under the law. The DOJ alleges that the managers pressured pharmacists to fulfill orders quickly, as the company believed this service attracted shoppers and kept them in stores. The suit also says the company did little to follow up with pharmacists who raised red flags, and, in one instance, filled prescriptions from a doctor that was under federal investigation and who declined to answer pharmacists’ questions.

Walmart isn’t the only company in the crosshairs, as Bankrupt Purdue Pharmaceutical, the maker of OxyContin, has already pleaded guilty to three federal felonies. In the meantime, other local governments have already sued Walmart, namely CVS Health [$CVS], Rite Aid [$RAD] and Walgreens [$WBA], for their alleged roles in the crisis. CVS & Walgreens Hiring 35,000 To Help With Vaccine Distribution

Throughout the legal troubles, Walmart shares have elevated over 21% YTD, as the retailer has seen a surge of new shoppers during the pandy. Even if Walmart were to settle with the DOJ—as Purdue did earlier this year, for a total of $8.34 billion—that would equate to just over 6% of the Q3 revenue, or 1.5% of the nearly $555 billion in revenue it is estimated to cap off 2020.

“Walmart knew that its distribution centers were using an inadequate system for detecting and reporting suspicious orders,” said Jason Dunn, the U.S. attorney in Colorado. “As a result of this inadequate system, for years Walmart reported virtually no suspicious orders at all. In other words, Walmart’s pharmacies ordered opioids in a way that went essentially unmonitored and unregulated.”

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