US justice accuses Walmart of fueling opioid crisis

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WASHINGTON | Despite Walmart’s attempts to ignite a backfire, US justice has decided to sue the distribution giant, accusing it of fueling the opioid crisis that has left hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States .

The Ministry of Justice calls for “civil sanctions which could amount to billions of dollars,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the ministry, Walmart “illegally distributed controlled and prescription substances during the height of the opioid crisis” to drugstores the group operates across the United States.

“Being one of the largest drugstore chains and one of the largest drug distributors in the country, Walmart had the responsibility and the means to help prevent opioid diversion,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, prosecutor. Acting Deputy General, cited in press release.

“Instead, and for years, [Walmart] did the opposite: accept thousands of invalid prescriptions in its pharmacies and fail to report suspicious prescriptions for opiates, ”he added, stressing that“ this illegal behavior has contributed to the epidemic of drug abuse. ‘opiates across the United States’.

Justice relied in particular on the statements of officials of the group having reported “enormous pressure to process the orders”.

It was necessary at all costs to “stimulate sales” and process prescriptions quickly to build customer loyalty, according to one of them.

Walmart responded by saying that the Justice Department’s lawsuits were “marred by historic ethical violations and that this lawsuit invents a legal theory that illegally forces pharmacists to stand between patients and their doctors, which is riddled with factual errors and which selects documents by taking them out of context ”.

Addiction to opioid drugs killed more than 450,000 people in the United States between 1999 and 2018.

Their consumption exploded from 2013, leading President Donald Trump to declare a “public health emergency” in 2017.

This crisis was even blamed for the drop in life expectancy in the United States between 2014 and 2017.

“Wear the hat”

The announcement of justice comes two months to the day after Walmart filed a lawsuit in Texas court.

The group then claimed to be the victim of an unjust attempt by the government to make it “wear the hat” for the overconsumption of ultra-addictive opiate drugs.

In its complaint, the supermarket chain – which has some 5,000 stores in the United States, with almost all pharmacy points – estimated that by criticizing its pharmacists for not having refused to provide opiates prescribed by the doctors, the ministry Justice and the DEA, the agency responsible for the fight against drugs, put pharmacists “in an untenable position”.

Driven by aggressive marketing from pharmaceutical companies, especially to doctors, the prescription of opioid pain medications, until then reserved for serious illnesses, exploded in the late 1990s.

Walmart accuses the DEA of seeking to clear itself of its “deep mistakes” in the management of this crisis: audits have in fact concluded that the federal agency had not, as it should have, prevented laboratories from producing quantities ever more important of these drugs nor, in 70% of cases, withdrawn their license to the doctors whose prescriptions were in question.

According to the complaint, the ministry and the DEA are baited against Walmart, spending for several years considerable sums on an investigation which, failing to lead to criminal proceedings, would now aim to extract substantial civil damages from it.

The group asked the Texas court to make it clear that the group and its pharmacists did not have the legal responsibilities that the government and the DEA would want them to have.

For now, this complaint has not been successful.

Other major US drug distributors – like Cardinal Health and McKesson – have been sued in the past by local or state authorities, who accuse them of turning a blind eye to millions of prescriptions for opioid drugs at the time. that they knew they were addicting.

An amicable settlement was notably found between three distributors and two counties in Ohio in October 2019.

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