Walmart Sues DOJ, DEA to Clarify Pharmacists’ Role in Filling Opioid Prescriptions

October 26, 2020
Christine Blank

Walmart filed a pre-emptive suit against 2 government agencies that are threatening to sue Walmart over its pharmacists filling opioid prescriptions.

Do you think the DOJ and DEA are justified in threatening to sue Walmart over filling opioid prescriptions?

Walmart has filed suit against the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), asking a US District Court judge to clarify the roles and responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the retailer said in a news release.1

Although Walmart’s pharmacies have blocked “thousands” of questionable physicians from having their opioids scripts filled by its pharmacists, “certain DOJ officials have long seemed more focused on chasing headlines than fixing the crisis,” the retailer said. “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.”1

Walmart is the third-largest pharmacy retailer in the US, with more than 5000 pharmacies nationwide. The supermarket chain has expressed its commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic, which has worsened over the years; overdose deaths from opioids were 4 times higher in 2018 than in 1999.2

However, there is no federal law requiring pharmacists to interfere in the phyisician-patient relationship to the degree that DOJ is demanding, according to Walmart. “In fact, expert federal and state health agencies routinely say it is not allowed and potentially harmful to patients with legitimate medical needs,” Walmart said.1

On one hand, DOJ is criticizing Walmart for not taking further actions to second-guess opioid presciptions; on the other, state health regulators argue that Walmart is unnecessarily meddling with physician-patient relationships, according to the news release.

“DOJ is forcing Walmart and our pharmacists between a rock and a hard place,” Walmart asserted in its statement.

The confusing dichotomy requires a federal court to clarify the roles and responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies, according to Walmart.

“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,” Walmart added.

Walmart Inc. v. DOJ was filed on October 22 in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.2

References:

  1. Walmart sues DOJ and DEA seeking clarity for pharmacists in dispensing prescription opioids. News release. Walmart; October 22, 2020. Accessed October 26, 2020. https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2020/10/22/walmart-sues-doj-and-dea-seeking-clarity-for-pharmacists-in-dispensing-prescription-opioids
  2. Redman R. Walmart sues DOJ over pharmacists’ role in dispensing opioid prescriptions. Supermarket News. October 23, 2020. Accessed October 26, 2020. https://www.supermarketnews.com/health-wellness/walmart-sues-doj-over-pharmacists-role-dispensing-opioid-prescriptions.

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