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Walmart sues US in pre-emptive strike in opioid abuse battle

PTI New York | Updated on October 23, 2020 Published on October 23, 2020

Walmart is suing the US government in a pre-emptive strike in the battle over its responsibility in the opioid abuse crisis.

The government is expected to take civil action against the world’s largest retailer, seeking big financial penalties, for the role its pharmacies may have played in the crisis by filling opioid prescriptions.

But on Thursday, Walmart filed a lawsuit saying that the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration are blaming the company for the government’s own lack of regulatory and enforcement policies to stem the crisis.

Walmart says it is seeking a declaration from a federal judge that the government has no lawful basis for seeking civil damages from the company. It is also seeking to clarify its legal rights and duties under the Controlled Substance Act.

Walmart operates more than 5,000 pharmacies in its stores around the country.

“Walmart and its pharmacists find themselves in an untenable position,” the company based in Bentonville, Arkansas, says in the lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in the Eastern District of Texas.

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“Under defendants’ sweeping view, Walmart and its pharmacists may be held liable — perhaps even criminally — for failing to second-guess DEA-registered doctors and refuse their prescriptions. But if pharmacists do so, they may face the wrath of state medical boards, the medical community at large, individual doctors, and patients.”

The lawsuit names the US Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr as defendants. It also names the DEA and its acting administrator, Timothy Shea.

In the suit, Walmart describes a government probe of the company that began in December 2016 and calls it a “misguided criminal investigation” conducted by the US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Texas. Walmart says it fully cooperated with the probe.

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Published on October 23, 2020
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