Walmart is suing the federal government in a preemptive strike against claims the retailer fueled the opioid crisis by filling suspicious prescriptions

  • Walmart is suing the DOJ and DEA, asking a federal court to clarify what legal authority its pharmacists have to refuse to fill opioid prescriptions.
  • Walmart's legal action comes as it expects the federal government to file its own lawsuit alleging the retail giant helped fuel the opioid crisis by refusing to fill suspicious prescriptions, the company said in a statement Thursday.
  • Walmart claimed the government's "unprecedented" threatened lawsuit would put its pharmacists "between a rock and a hard place" of facing legal action whether or not they refuse to fill the prescriptions.
  • Walmart is currently facing lawsuits from several states and counties over its role as an opioid distributor and pharmacy.
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Walmart has filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency in an attempt to head off what it said was the government's own planned civil legal action related to the retail giant's alleged role in the opioid crisis, the company said in a statement Thursday.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Walmart claimed the federal government is trying to shift blame for its own regulatory failings onto the company, and asked the court to clarify whether its pharmacists have the authority to refuse to fill prescriptions under the Controlled Substances Act.

"In the shadow of their own profound failures, DOJ and DEA now seek to retroactively impose on pharmacists and pharmacies unworkable requirements that are not found in any law and go beyond what pharmacists are trained and licensed to perform," Walmart said in the lawsuit.

The dispute concerns Walmart's role as both a pharmacy and prescription drug distributor. In the wake of the opioid crisis, pharmacies have faced scrutiny and legal action for what critics say was a failure to detect and refusal to fill suspicious, high-volume opioid prescriptions.

In its lawsuit, Walmart said that it has already faced legal action from state and health regulators who accused the company of "going too far by refusing to fill opioid prescriptions." But it also said the federal government's "unprecedented" proposed lawsuit would, conversely, punish Walmart's pharmacists "for not going far enough by continuing to fill opioid prescriptions of certain licensed doctors—many of whom are still authorized by DEA to prescribe opioids to this day."

"Because these new, unsupported expectations directly conflict with the requirements of state regulators who oversee the practice of pharmacy and medicine, pharmacists are left between the proverbial 'rock and a hard place,'" the complaint said.

Walmart is among several major corporations that have faced legal action for allegedly playing a role in fueling the opioid crisis, including distributors like McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, drugmakers such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, and more recently, pharmacies such as CVS Health and Rite Aid.

Walmart is facing lawsuits from several states and counties across the country including West Virginia and Ohio. 

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