The United States Department of Justice sued Walmart Inc. on Tuesday. and accused & # 39; the world's largest retailer of fueling the opioid crisis in the United States, ignoring warning signs from its pharmacists and filling out thousands of invalid prescriptions.
In a civil suit in a U.S. court in Delaware, the government said Walmart did not take its gatekeepers as a pharmacy seriously, allegations the company rejected.
Walmart, whose stock closed 1.2% after the news, said in a statement that the Justice Department investigation is tainted by historical ethical violations, and that this lawsuit devises a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists between patients and their doctors. full of factual inaccuracies. "
Walmart created a system that turned its 5,000 in-store pharmacies into a provider of highly addictive painkillers, dating back to June 2013, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit was one of the most important actions the Justice Department has taken in response to the epidemic against companies accused of contributing to it.
Last month, prosecutors filed a guilty plea from Purdue in connection with the sale of opioids and previously prosecuted multiple executives at the opioid company Insys Therapeutics who were accused of bribing doctors to prescribe an addictive drug.
Insys filed for bankruptcy last year after closing a deal with the government in which a subsidiary pleaded guilty to allegations of fraud.
The three largest drug distributors – McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health – are in talks with drug company Johnson & Johnson with public attorneys general to resolve the opioid lawsuits for a total of $ 26 billion.
OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and drugmaker Mallinckrodt have filed for bankruptcy protection as part of their own multi-billion dollar proposals to resolve the lawsuits.
The companies have denied the underlying allegations.
The & # 39; illegitimate & # 39; Walmart's actions helped "fuel a national crisis" and "had disastrous consequences," Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the acting chief of the Justice Department's civil division, said at a news conference.
When asked if the government intended to prosecute, Clark said "you should not draw any conclusions about criminal cases" from the civil report.
Walmart called the lawsuit a "transparent attempt to put the blame on the (Drug Enforcement Administration's) well-documented failures by preventing bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place."
Deputy DEA Administrator Timothy Shea said in a statement, “When pharmacies routinely fill out illegal prescriptions, we will hold everyone accountable, including Walmart. Too many lives have been lost due to failure of supervision and turning a blind eye to those entrusted with responsibility. "
More than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed nationally by states, provinces and municipalities seeking to hold drug manufacturers and distributors accountable for fueling an opioid addiction epidemic that resulted in 450,000 overdose deaths between 1999 and 2018, according to U.S. government data.
According to the lawsuit, Walmart unlawfully filled in thousands upon thousands of invalid regulations for controlled substances. The lawsuit said that "Walmart has maintained a system for years that it knew could not adequately detect and report suspicious orders."
The government accused Walmart of violating the Controlled Substances Act. If held liable, it could face civil fines of up to $ 67,627 for each illegal prescription filled out and $ 15,691 for each suspicious warrant left unreported.
Walmart said Tuesday that “by requiring pharmacists and pharmacies to be doctors, the Justice Department is placing pharmacists and pharmacies between a rock and a hard place with state health regulators saying they are already going too far in refusing to opioid prescriptions. "
In October, Walmart in Texas filed a lawsuit against the federal government to clarify the roles and legal responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies in filling opioid prescriptions.
(Reported by David Shepardson and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Melissa Fares in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; edited by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)
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