The Walmart pharmacies seemed to have violated the law by filling thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances that Walmart's pharmacists knew were invalid.
On Tuesday, the US Justice Department sued Walmart, a giant retailer operating in more than 5,000 pharmacies nationwide, due to an alleged role in fueling the country's opioid crisis by incompetently screening thousands of doubtful prescriptions and disregarding frequent notices from its pharmacists.
According to the federal complaint, the suit alleges, Walmart "knowingly violated well-established rules requiring it to scrutinize controlled-substance prescriptions to ensure that they were valid" and mandated "pharmacists to process a high volume of prescriptions as fast as possible."
By doing so, "Walmart profited by providing its pharmacies with substantial quantities of controlled substances to sell, and from selling other products to customers who came to Walmart stores only because Walmart, pharmacies would readily provide these controlled substances."
Further, the suit states, Walmart's compliance unit "collected voluminous information indicating that the giant retailer was regularly being inquired about selling to unacceptable regulated-substance prescriptions," but "that unit for years withheld that information from pharmacists and allowed them to continue dispensing opioids based on invalid prescriptions."
The acting assistant attorney general of the civil division of the Justice Department, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, said on a call with reporters, "Walmart's pharmacies violated the law by filling thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances that Walmart's pharmacists knew were invalid. Walmart filled invalid controlled substance prescriptions by the thousands, even when it knew the prescriptions were invalid. And as a wholesale distributor for its pharmacies, Walmart systematically violated its legal obligation to detect suspicious orders of controlled substances."
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Maria Chapa Lopez, Middle District of Florida U.S. attorney, told reporters on a call that "Many of these prescription drugs would never have hit the streets if Walmart's pharmacies had complied with their obligations."
Walmart replied, though, "We always empowered our pharmacists to refuse to fill problematic opioids prescriptions" and that it has declined "hundreds of thousands" of wary prescriptions.
In an email sent "tens of thousands of investigative leads to the Drug Enforcement Administration about suspicious doctors and that it has "blocked thousands of questionable doctors" from filling their prescriptions through Walmart pharmacies."
The company said, "By demanding pharmacists and pharmacies second-guess doctors, the Justice Department is putting pharmacists and pharmacies between a rock and a hard place with state health regulators who say they are already going too far in refusing to fill opioid prescriptions."
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics said, deaths due to synthetic opioid overdoses were more than 81,000 from May 2019 to this May, which is the highest number of drug overdoses in 12 months ever recorded.
According to a complaint filed in an Ohio federal court, "Over the last several years, many pharmaceutical companies have faced several lawsuits across the country with similar allegations that they aggressively sought to bolster their revenue, increase profit, and grow their share of the prescription painkiller market by unlawfully and surreptitiously increasing the volume of opioids they sold.".