US government accuses Walmart of fueling opioid crisis, alleging it ignored internal pharmacist warnings

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The US government has accused Walmart Inc. to fuel a nationwide opioid crisis by ignoring warnings from its own pharmacists that the chain was not properly configured to screen for pain reliever prescriptions in violation of federal regulations.

The Delaware complaint on Tuesday comes two months after the world’s largest retailer filed its own lawsuit in Texas, accusing the United States of scapegoating Walmart for the government’s failures in handling the crisis. More than 400,000 deaths of Americans have been linked to legal and illegal opioid drugs over the past two decades.

in thenew case, the United States alleges that the retailer sought to increase profits with a system designed to make it nearly impossible tostore pharmacistscatching red flags on too many pain medication prescriptions. Walmart is in the unusual position of serving as a distributor of opioid drugs in its own stores.

“Given the national scale of these violations, Walmart’s failure to follow basic legal rules has helped fuel a national crisis,” the United States said in the lawsuit filed in Wilmington federal court.

The lawsuit is a blow to Walmart after it recently started opening its own low-cost health clinics, with plans to expand them in Georgia and the Chicago area. The retailer is also entering the insurance business and said it will start selling Medicare plans in October through its own licensed broker, Walmart Insurance Services.

“The Justice Department’s investigation is marred by historic ethics violations, and this lawsuit invents a legal theory that illegally compels pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies and of handpicked documents taken out of context, ”Walmart said. in a statement sent by e-mail.

Walmart shares fell on the news, closing Tuesday down 1.2% at $ 144.20.

The Bentonville, Ark.-Based company is already the target of more than 2,000 lawsuits from states, cities and counties, which claim the retailer has deliberately turned a blind eye to suspicious prescription painkillers by doctors and benefits from opioid addictions and overdoses. The American lawsuit increases the pressure on the company.

Walmart and drugstore chains such as Rite aid Corp. andWalgreens Boots Alliance Inc.face a lawsuit next year in federal court in Cleveland over the allegations. The case had been set for November, but was delayed by the coronavirus outbreak.

The wave of litigation has prompted at least three manufacturers of opioid-based painkillers to seek bankruptcy protection to face lawsuits. One of them, Purdue Pharma, also pleaded guilty to criminal charges relating to the illegal marketing of its pain reliever OxyContin. Members of the billionaire Sackler family – which owns Purdue – have also agreed to pay $ 225 million to personally settle possible civil lawsuits against them.

Opioid distributors Mckesson Corp, Cardinal health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp – with a former opioid maker Johnson & johnson – negotiated a proposed $ 26 billion settlement with a group of state attorneys general who are suing to recover billions of dollars in taxes spent on fallout from the opioid epidemic. This agreement has not yet been finalized.

In their lawsuit, Justice Department lawyers say Walmart executives put in place a system that turned its 5,000 in-store pharmacies into one of the nation’s largest suppliers of highly addictive opioid painkillers. The chain used low prices to attract customers, then asked pharmacists to step up the pace of filling prescriptions, leaving little time for proper follow-up, depending on the costume.

Federal law requires companies that handle regulated drugs to compile information on doctors’ prescriptions to make it easier for pharmacists to spot so-called “red flags,” including excessive orders from unofficial medical practices. knownpill mills.

While Walmart collected this data, it did not share information about “problem prescribers” with its pharmacists or federal regulators and ignored alerts from their employees about such practices, the Department of Health said. Justice in the trial.

“As a wholesale drug distributor, Walmart had an obligation to notify ‘federal regulators’ of suspicious orders for controlled substances,” said the acting US attorney for the eastern district of New York.Seth DuCharmesaid in a statement. His office was involved in making the costume. “Walmart has failed to meet its two obligations and thus failed in its responsibility to prevent the diversion of controlled substances,” he added.

Lawyers for the Texas Department of Justice had launched a criminal investigation into Walmart’s handling of opioid painkillers and were ready to lay charges, according tomedia reports. But senior officials from the Justice Ministry decided in 2018 to stay the prosecution and file a complaint instead.

The case is US v. Walmart Inc., 20-cv-1744, US District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

–With help from Leslie Patton and Christopher Yasiejko.

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