On Tuesday, December 22nd, retail giant Walmart was sued by the Justice Department. They were accused of fueling the opioid crisis that has been damaging the country. The department claims that they have been inadequately screening thousands of prescriptions, even ignoring warnings from their own pharmacists. According to the lawsuit, “[Walmart] knowingly violated well established rules requiring it to scrutinize controlled-substance prescriptions to ensure that they were valid.” It also required “pharmacists to process a high volume of prescriptions as fast as possible.”

The suit claims that Walmart was able to profit off of the large quantities of controlled substances that were provided to its own pharmacies. Customers would then come solely to Walmart pharmacies because these substances were readily available. Reporters were also informed by Maria Chapa Lopez, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, that doctors allegedly instructed patients to fill prescriptions at Walmart pharmacies that would not be filled at other pharmacies.

According to Jeffrey Bossert Clark, acting assistant attorney general of the civil division of the Justice Department, “Walmart filled invalid controlled substance prescriptions by the thousands, even when it knew the prescriptions were invalid. And as a wholesale distributor for its own pharmacies, Walmart systematically violated its legal obligation to detect suspicious orders of controlled substances.” In defense to the accusations, Walmart stated that they have repeatedly told their pharmacists not to fill invalid opioid prescriptions. They also reported that they have refused to fill hundreds of thousands of these prescriptions.

Deaths caused by opioid overdoses reached the highest number for a 12-month period in history in May 2019, reaching more than 81,000. Because of this, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walmart have faced several lawsuits throughout the country over the past couple of years. Pharmacies are supposed to act as the last line of defense against prescription opioid diversion. Unfortunately, however, some of these companies are not acting in the best interest of their patients and are oversupplying controlled substances in an effort to raise their revenue and increase their profits.

Despite the large contribution pharmacies play to the current opioid crisis, they are only one component of the drug distribution chain. Big pharma manufacturers such as Purdue Pharmacy have also been accused by the Justice Department and other governments of being deceptive by “representing opioids as useful in treating chronic pain long-term, and as having low addiction risk.”

Walmart has argued against the lawsuits stating that doctors were enabled to write those prescriptions by parties outside of their company. They have requested that the lawsuit does not have the ability to seek civil damages.