Princeton Daily Clarion recently asked a provocative question: Is Walmart an opioid villain? The article reviews a recent history of the mega corporation, starting with allegations from U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas that Walmart lent a sinister hand in the nation’s opioid crisis by filling “pill mill” doctor prescriptions.

It moves the story along to current day, when the Arkansas retail giant is pre-emptively suing the Department of Justice (DOJ) in anticipation of the government agency filing an opioid-related lawsuit against the Walmart corporation. The DOJ lawsuit centers on claims that Walmart pharmacists filled opioid prescriptions that should have raised flags.

The Wall Street Journal reports Walmart’s belief that the DOJ lawsuit amounts to nothing more than scapegoating for its own failure to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Walmart’s Pre-emptive Strike

Walmart announced on October 22, 2020, that it was suing the DOJ and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), requesting that a federal court clarify the roles and responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The case is now pending before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

The retailer issued a press release on the lawsuit, stating its motivation for pursuing legal action. “DOJ is forcing Walmart and our pharmacists between a rock and a hard place,” the press release reads. “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.”

Ultimately, Walmart’s lawsuit urges the court to rule that the government does not have a legal basis for pursuing civil damages from the corporation based on its claims that the store’s pharmacists filled suspicious prescriptions.

Walmart also has a problem with the fact that the DOJ knows of hundreds of doctors who wrote the questionable prescriptions that should not have been filled but who still carry active DEA registrations, according to The Wall Street Journal’s report.

“In other words, defendants want to blame Walmart for continuing to fill purportedly bad prescriptions written by doctors that DEA and state regulators enabled to write those prescriptions in the first place and continue to stand by today,” Walmart said.

Previous Opioid Actions Against Walmart

In 2018, the DOJ charged Walmart for its role in promoting the opioid epidemic by dispensing opioids, according to ProPublica. These charges were not prosecuted. A trial in federal court regarding Ohio cases for Cuyahoga and Summit counties was delayed because of COVID-19.

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Sara Stephens is a freelance writer who has developed a hefty portfolio of work across several industries, with a strong emphasis on law, technology, and marketing. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, as well as various technology and consumer publications, both print and online. Sara also works as a freelance book editor, having developed and edited manuscripts for bestselling and novice authors alike, and as a verbal strategist for a Miami branding consultancy.