Justice Department sues Walmart, alleges store fueled opioid crisis

Tim Balk, New York Daily News

The Justice Department sued Walmart on Tuesday, accusing the nation’s largest retailer of fanning the opioid crisis with a system that pressured pharmacists to rapidly fill reams of pill prescriptions without adequate oversight.

In a sprawling 160-page civil suit, prosecutors accused Walmart of shirking its duty as a gatekeeper during an out-of-control opioid epidemic that has taken more than 230,000 American lives over the past two decades.

The complaint claimed Walmart filed thousands of suspicious prescriptions and put up obstacles for skeptical pharmacists who wished to refuse questionable orders.

“Walmart routinely ignored the very legal requirements that could have helped stem the epidemic,” the suit said. “In doing so, Walmart endangered its customers and contributed to the prescription drug abuse epidemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.”

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, also said the retail giant fell short of its obligation to report hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Walmart fired back in a statement, accusing the Justice Department of conducting an investigation “tainted by historical ethics violations” and filing a suit that “invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors.”

“Walmart always empowered our pharmacists to refuse to fill problematic opioids prescriptions, and they refused to fill hundreds of thousands of such prescriptions,” the retail chain said in the statement.

Walmart filed a preemptive lawsuit in October that accused the government of scapegoating the company for the federal government’s own regulatory failings.