Amid ongoing litigation against pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and drug-store chains, federal officials are targeting Walmart Inc. for allegedly filling thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances that its pharmacists knew were invalid.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Delaware, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Walmart of unlawfully dispensing controlled substances from pharmacies it operated across the country and unlawfully distributing controlled substances to those pharmacies throughout the height of the prescription opioid crisis.
The lawsuit alleges that Walmart failed to adequately scrutinize prescriptions to ensure they were legitimate before they were filled. The legal complaint includes allegations about “improper prescribing” by “F.T.,” an orthopedist who operated pain management clinics in Tampa and Punta Gorda. According to the lawsuit, pharmacists reported that F.T.’s patients “appeared impaired and had used multiple pharmacies” and reported other red flags associated with the orthopedist’s prescriptions.
Between June 2013 and November 2015, Walmart allegedly filled more than 1,000 of F.T.’s controlled-substance prescriptions, including more than 200 prescriptions paid for in cash, despite reports of the doctor’s inappropriate prescribing practices, the lawsuit alleges.
The Justice Department is seeking an unspecified amount of damages from Walmart, which “could total in the billions of dollars,” the agency said in a news release Tuesday.
Maria Chapa Lopez, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, said pill mill doctors in Florida directed customers to Walmart.
“Some of these pill mill prescribers even told their customers to bring their prescriptions to Walmart to have them filled because other pharmacies would not fill them,” Lopez told reporters during a phone call Tuesday. “That result was that Walmart pharmacies filled thousands of invalid prescriptions. Some of those invalid prescriptions were for drug cocktails that were often abused. And as the complaint alleges, some individuals who filled prescriptions at Walmart overdosed.”
The national retailer, however, denied the allegations. In a statement posted on its website, Walmart said the Justice Department’s investigation was “tainted by historical ethics violations.”
The lawsuit “invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context,” Walmart said.
“Blaming pharmacists for not second-guessing the very doctors the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) approved to prescribe opioids is a transparent attempt to shift blame from DEA’s well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place.”