Seeking to fend off what it called unjustified criticism of its pharmacies, and its pharmacists’ role in combating the opioid crisis, Walmart has filed a suit seeking clarity on their roles under the Conmtrolled Substances Act.
The suit, filed against the U.S. Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency, was filed in U.S. Court in the Eastern District of Texas.
Walmart said the suit was promoted by the threat of what it called an “unjustified” lawsuit against it by the Department of Justice. This is a likely reference to reported moves by federal prosecutors in Texas to bring criminal charges against the big retailer after some pharmacy patients overdosed on prescription medication prescribed by so-called pill-mills.
In a statement, the company said “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. With the help of a team of investigators and experts, Walmart has also blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled by any of our pharmacists, and we frequently assist law enforcement in bringing bad doctors to justice.
“Unfortunately, certain DOJ officials have long seemed more focused on chasing headlines than fixing the crisis. 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.”
Walmart asserted that there is “no federal law requiring pharmacists to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship to the degree DOJ is demanding, and in fact expert federal and state health agencies routinely say it is not allowed and potentially harmful to patients with legitimate medical needs.
“DOJ is forcing Walmart and our pharmacists between a rock and a hard place. 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, the statement continued.
“Walmart and our pharmacists are torn between demands from DEA on one side and health agencies and regulators on the other, and patients are caught in the middle. We need a court to clarify the roles and legal responsibilities of pharmacists and pharmacies in filling opioid prescriptions.”