Key takeaways

  • The DOJ accused Walmart of fueling the opioid crisis by filling invalid prescriptions
  • The lawsuit comes after Walmart sued the DOJ and DEA to seek clarification regarding the roles of pharmacies in dispensing prescription opioids

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Walmart for inadequately screening for questionable prescriptions despite repeated warnings from its own pharmacists.

The civil complaint alleges that Walmart helped fuel the U.S. opioid crisis by unlawfully filling opioid prescriptions and distributing controlled substances through its pharmacies. The lawsuit claims that Walmart tried to boost profits by understaffing its pharmacies and pressuring employees to fill prescriptions quickly, making it difficult for pharmacists to reject invalid prescriptions. Walmart operates more than 5,000 pharmacies in its stores across the country.

“We entrust distributors and dispensers with the responsibility to ensure controlled substances do not fall into the wrong hands,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Timothy Shea. “When processes to safeguard against drug diversion are violated or ignored, or when pharmacies routinely fill illegitimate prescriptions, we will hold accountable anyone responsible, including Walmart.”

Shares in Walmart traded down 1.4% at 2:30 p.m. EST Tuesday on the news.

"The Justice Department’s investigation is tainted by historical ethics violations, and this lawsuit invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context," Walmart said in a statement.

The lawsuit comes nearly two months after Walmart preemptively sued the DOJ and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in an effort to seek clarification regarding the roles and responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies in dispensing prescription opioids. Specifically, Walmart said it is unreasonable for the DOJ to demand that pharmacists refuse to fill valid opioid prescriptions written by doctors that still have active registrations with the DEA when there is no federal law that requires them to do so. Walmart said the feds are looking for a scapegoat for their own regulatory and enforcement shortcomings.

“We are proud of our pharmacists, who help patients understand the risks about opioid prescriptions, and who have refused to fill hundreds of thousands of opioid prescriptions they thought could be problematic,” Walmart said at the time. “With the help of a team of investigators and experts, Walmart has also blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled by any of our pharmacists, and we frequently assist law enforcement in bringing bad doctors to justice.”

President Trump has urged the DOJ to take action against companies fueling the opioid crisis. Earlier this year, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to three federal felonies related to marketing and distribution of its opioid painkiller OxyContin. Purdue also agreed to an $8.34 billion settlement with the DOJ at the time.