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Walmart the Subject of a DOJ Lawsuit Over Opioid Prescriptions


On October 22nd Walmart Inc. filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas petitioning the Court to define the respective roles and responsibilities of pharmacists under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  Walmart Inc. v DOJ was a preemptive measure taken by Walmart in anticipation of presumed Department of Justice (DOJ) action.


On December 22nd, the DOJ filed a suit alleging that Walmart violated the CSA by filling prescriptions for opioids that the DOJ maintains were "not issued for legitimate medical purposes or in the usual course of medical practice". 


The DOJ is joined in the lawsuit by the U.S. Attorneys' Offices for Colorado, Delaware, North Carolina, New York and Florida.  The DOJ case relates to the principle of Walmart serving as a "critical gate keeper" that abrogated responsibilities as a dispenser and distributor of controlled substances.  The DOJ maintains that Walmart consistently failed to respond to red flags before filling scripts.


The acting-Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Timothy Shea stated, "when processes to safeguard against drug diversion are violated or ignored or when pharmacies routinely fill non-legitimate prescriptions we will hold accountable anyone responsible".


Walmart maintains that it was not the responsibility of a pharmacist to question a valid prescription issued by a licensed physician. The Company questions the responsibility of a pharmacist faced with what appears to be a valid prescription.  Either filling the prescription or refusing to do so carries risks.


The Company faces considerable financial exposure with civil penalties of up to $67,000 for each unlawful prescription filled and $16,000 for each suspicious order not reported. The Walmart defense is supported by amicus Briefs by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Pharmacists Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation among others.


Walmart operates 5,000 pharmacies and is the third-largest U.S. pharmacy retailer by revenue and the nation’s fifth-biggest pharmacy by prescription revenue.