Justice Department sues Walmart, says it helped fuel opioid crisis

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The U.S. government is suing Walmart, saying the corporate giant knowingly filled thousands of problematic prescriptions that contributed to the national opioid crisis.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the Justice Department, says the nation’s largest retailer did not properly screen prescriptions at its 5,000 pharmacies. The agency is seeking civil penalties that could total billions of dollars, it said in a news release.

“As one of the largest pharmacy chains and wholesale drug distributors in the country, Walmart had the responsibility and the means to help prevent the diversion of prescription opioids,” Jeffrey Bossert Clark, acting assistant attorney general of the civil division, said in a statement. “Instead, for years, it did the opposite – filling thousands of invalid prescriptions at its pharmacies and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids and other drugs placed by those pharmacies.”

Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In October, Walmart preemptively sued the agency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, asking a federal court to clarify its pharmacies’ roles and responsibilities in filling opioid prescriptions. The company said its pharmacists had refused to fill hundreds of thousands of opioid prescriptions that they deemed problematic and had blocked thousands of “questionable doctors” from having prescriptions filled at its 5,000 pharmacies.

“We are bringing this lawsuit because there is no federal law requiring pharmacists to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship to the degree DOJ is demanding,” the company said at the time. “Unfortunately, certain DOJ officials have long seemed more focused on chasing headlines than fixing the crisis.”

The retail giant operates 11,500 stores worldwide, including 5,300 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in the United States. It is the nation’s largest private employer, with about 1.5 million U.S. workers.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the DOJ lawsuit. Walmart shares fell 1.4%, to about $144, on Tuesday afternoon. The company’s stock has risen 21% this year.

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