Updated Dec 22, 2020 - Health

Justice Department sues Walmart, alleging role in opioid crisis

A sign for WalMart pharmacy
Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The Trump administration sued Walmart on Tuesday, accusing its pharmacies of not properly screening questionable painkiller prescriptions and filling them, ultimately fueling nationwide addiction.

Why it matters: The major retailer "knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes or in the usual course of medical practice," the Justice Department alleges.

The state of play: Walmart's network of 5,000 in-store pharmacies were turned into America's leading supplier of highly addictive painkillers, dating back to 2013, per the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news of the lawsuit.

  • “Rather than analyzing the refusal-to-fill reports, the compliance unit viewed ‘[d]riving sales and patient awareness’ as ‘a far better use of our Market Directors and Market Manager’s time,’” the Justice Department said, quoting a company compliance director.
  • “Given the nationwide scale of those violations, Walmart’s failures to follow basic legal rules helped fuel a national crisis.”

Background: In October, Walmart sued the federal government to counterattack the impending opioid-related civil lawsuit from the Justice Department.

The big picture: Drugmaker Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year in response to settling hundreds of lawsuits.

  • Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors are in talks of a $26 billion settlement between several counties and states.
  • About 50,000 fatal opioid overdoses occurred in 2019, per federal data, a record high.

This post has been updated with more information from the Department of Justice.

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