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The US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil complaint Tuesday against Walmart, alleging the big box giant played a significant role in the nation's urgent opioid crisis.
The complaint, according to a press release, alleges Walmart "unlawfully dispensed controlled substances from pharmacies it operated across the country and unlawfully distributed controlled substances to those pharmacies throughout the height of the prescription opioid crisis." Walmart operates around 5,000 pharmacies via the chain nationwide.
"It has been a priority of this administration to hold accountable those responsible for the prescription opioid crisis. 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," said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division, 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. This unlawful conduct contributed to the epidemic of opioid abuse throughout the United States. Today's filing represents an important step in the effort to hold Walmart accountable for such conduct."
The civil lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the District of Delaware, is a result of the DOJ's investigation by the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force which alleges that "Walmart violated the CSA [Controlled Substances Act] in multiple ways as the operator of its pharmacies and wholesale drug distribution centers."
The DOJ alleges that Walmart pharmacies knew they were filling controlled substance prescriptions that were not for medicinal purposes and far outside the scope of normal pharmaceutical prescriptions of opioids. Because of the number of pharmacies available through Walmart, the DOJ alleges their violations fueled the prescription opioid crisis.
If Walmart is found liable, the corporation "could face civil penalties of up to $67,627 for each unlawful prescription filled and $15,691 for each suspicious order not reported."
In a recently published study done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 10.1 million people are reported to misuse opioids although in 2018 there has been "a modest decline overall for each opioid category except prescribed fentanyl." The opioid crisis was at its height in 2016 and 2017, when it was reported 2.5 million 18-25 year olds were misusing opioids.