The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a lawsuit on December 22, 2020 against retail giant Walmart, alleging the company played a significant role in fueling the country’s opioid epidemic.  The lawsuit is the result of a years’-long investigation by the DOJ’s Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (“PIL”) Task Force.  

The DOJ alleges that Walmart violated the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) by knowingly filling thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes or not issued in the usual course of medical practice, and knowingly filling prescriptions outside the ordinary course of pharmacy practice.  The DOJ also alleges that Walmart, as the operator of its distribution centers, received hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders that it failed to report as required to by the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”).

Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division commented on the allegations, “It has been a priority of this administration to hold accountable those responsible for the prescription opioid crisis.  As one of the largest pharmacy chains and wholesale drug distributors in the country, Walmart had the responsibility and the means to help prevent the diversion of prescription opioids.  Instead, for years, it did the opposite — filling thousands of invalid prescriptions at its pharmacies and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids and other drugs placed by those pharmacies.  This unlawful conduct contributed to the epidemic of opioid abuse throughout the United States.  Today’s filing represents an important step in the effort to hold Walmart accountable for such conduct.”

Walmart faces civil penalties of up to $67,627 for each unlawful prescription filled and $15,691 for each suspicious order not reported, which total hundreds of thousands of alleged CSA violations, in addition to potential injunctive relief.  Civil penalties could amount to billions of dollars if the government is successful.

The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.  The government is represented by attorneys from the DOJ Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the District of Colorado, District of Delaware, Eastern District of North Carolina, Eastern District of New York, and Middle District of Florida.  In addition to the PIL Task Force’s work on the investigation, assistance was also provided by the DEA’s Dallas Field Division and Diversion Control Operations personnel, the DEA’s Office of Chief Counsel, and the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section.  The DOJ continues to coordinate its enforcement efforts across multiple agencies.  

The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent clients of all types and sizes in connection with criminal and civil government investigations. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.