In a new lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Walmart corporation has been accused of helping to fuel the opioid crisis by knowingly filling out thousands of suspicious subscriptions and failing to report the orders to authorities. The DOJ says that the company could be facing billions of dollars in civil penalties if the court rules against them.
The lawsuit claims that Walmart was being investigated for years due to its lenient policy on opioid prescriptions. The company is being accused of violating the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) at its pharmacies and its wholesale drug distribution centers.
Walmart responded to the lawsuit and the allegations with a statement denying the charges, insisting that the lawsuit is based on “a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors” and “cherry-picked documents taken out of context.”
The DOJ claims that Walmart “knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes.”
The company claimed that they did actually report cases to the DEA, and suggested that they were being blamed for the DEA’s own failures.
“In contrast to DEA’s own failures, Walmart always empowered our pharmacists to refuse to fill problematic opioids prescriptions, and they refused to fill hundreds of thousands of such prescriptions. Walmart sent DEA tens of thousands of investigative leads, and we blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled at our pharmacies,” a statement from the company read, according to CNN Business.
This lawsuit is just the most recent of many actions that the DOJ has carried out against large corporations that played a role in the opioid crisis. Earlier this year, OxyContin producer Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to three federal criminal charges for the role that it played in the ongoing opioid crisis.
Justice Department officials said that the company will be pleading guilty as part of a settlement worth over $8 billion.
In the settlement, Purdue will pay $225 million directly to the government and will give up an additional $2 billion to the government through criminal asset forfeiture. The company also faces a $3.54 billion criminal fine, but this money may not be collected due to bankruptcy. Purdue also owes $2.8 billion in damages to cover lawsuits that victims have brought against the company.
The company will be pleading guilty to three federal charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws. The company admitted to pushing doctors to prescribe more opioids than they would have otherwise. Investigations into dozens of companies are currently ongoing, and more announcements are expected to come in the following months, with the potential of more charges against corporations that have yet to be named.
Some critics of the industry feel that the lawsuits do not go far enough, pointing out that most people would be facing harsh prison sentences if they were accused of selling drugs to the extent that these companies did.
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