The U.S. government accused Walmart Inc. of fueling a nationwide opioid crisis by ignoring warnings from its own pharmacists that the chain wasn’t properly screening prescriptions for painkillers, in violation of federal regulations.
The lawsuit against the world’s largest retailer comes two months after the chain filed its own case accusing the U.S. of scapegoating Walmart for government failures in dealing with the crisis.
In the new case, the U.S. alleges that the retailer set up a system designed to make it almost impossible for overworked store pharmacists to catch red flags about overly large numbers of prescriptions in order to boost profits.
”Given the nationwide scale of those violations, Walmart’s failures to follow basic legal rules helped fuel a national crisis,” the U.S. said in a complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Delaware.
In response to the lawsuit, Walmart issued this statement: "The Justice Department’s investigation is tainted by historical ethics violations, and this lawsuit invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context."
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart is already a target of more than 2,000 suits filed by states, cities and counties, which claim the retailer intentionally turned a blind eye to suspicious prescribing of painkillers by doctors and profiting from opioid addictions and overdoses. The U.S. lawsuit boosts the pressure on the company.
Walmart and pharmacy chains such as Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. are facing a trial next year in federal court in Cleveland over the allegations.