Walmart sues DOJ and DEA ahead of expected opioid lawsuit

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Walmart sues DOJ and DEA ahead of expected opioid lawsuit

By Marianne Wilson - 10/23/2020

Walmart has sued the U.S. Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration as it seeks “clarity for pharmacists in dispensing prescription opiods.” 

The lawsuit comes as Walmart and several other large companies have been targeted in lawsuits by state and local governments for allegedly helping to fuel the nation’s opioid crisis. It was viewed as a pre-emptive move against an impending opioid-related civil lawsuit against the retail giant from the Justice Department. Walmart accused the DOJ of being more focused on “chasing headlines than fixing the crisis.”  

“They are now threatening a completely unjustified lawsuit against Walmart, claiming in hindsight pharmacists should have refused to fill otherwise valid opioid prescriptions that were written by the very doctors that the federal government still approves to write prescriptions,” the retailer said in a statement. 

The Walmart suit names the department and Attorney General William Barr as defendants, along with the DEA and its acting administrator. It is seeking a declaration from a federal judge that the government has no lawful basis for seeking civil damages from the company based on claims pharmacists filled valid prescriptions that they should have known raised red flags.

“We are bringing this lawsuit because there is no federal law requiring pharmacists to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship to the degree DOJ is demanding, and in fact expert federal and state health agencies routinely say it is not allowed and potentially harmful to patients with legitimate medical needs,” Walmart stated.

Walmart’s full statement is below. 

Walmart and our pharmacists are committed to helping address the opioid crisis that has affected so many. 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. 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.

Unfortunately, certain DOJ officials have long seemed more focused on chasing headlines than fixing the crisis. They are now threatening a completely unjustified lawsuit against Walmart, claiming in hindsight pharmacists should have refused to fill otherwise valid opioid prescriptions that were written by the very doctors that the federal government still approves to write prescriptions.

We are bringing this lawsuit because there is no federal law requiring pharmacists to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship to the degree DOJ is demanding, and in fact expert federal and state health agencies routinely say it is not allowed and potentially harmful to patients with legitimate medical needs.

DOJ is forcing Walmart and our pharmacists between a rock and a hard place. At the same time that DOJ is threatening to sue Walmart for not going even further in second-guessing doctors, state health regulators are threatening Walmart and our pharmacists for going too far and interfering in the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors and patients also bring lawsuits when their opioid prescriptions are not filled.

Walmart and our pharmacists are torn between demands from DEA on one side and health agencies and regulators on the other, and patients are caught in the middle. We need a court to clarify the roles and legal responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies in filling opioid prescriptions.