America’s Biggest Big-Box Retailer Accused of Aiding Pill Mills

Pills on a table being counted, to represent how Chapman Law Group defends physicians against the DEA, and health care fraud.

The biggest retailer in the U.S. just got served a civil complaint from the Department of Justice, with allegations of filling thousands of invalid prescriptions and not reporting suspicious opioid orders. 

The complaint, released Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, claims that Walmart committed “hundreds of thousands of violations” of the Controlled Substances Act among its 5,000 in-store pharmacies — as early as June 2013 — and it could face billions of dollars in penalties.

According to the suit, the retailer “unlawfully filled thousands upon thousands of invalid controlled-substance prescriptions,” and that “for years, Walmart kept in place a system that it knew was failing to adequately detect and report suspicious orders.”

Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the acting chief of Justice’s Civil Division, stated:

“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 … This unlawful conduct contributed to the epidemic of opioid abuse throughout the United States.”

“Walmart managers put enormous pressure on pharmacists to fill prescriptions” and required them to process a high volume of prescriptions “as fast as possible” while denying them the authority to refuse to fill what they knew to be invalid prescriptions, the government said.

Federal officials also notes that Walmart continued to fill orders issued by the same prescribers that pharmacists had flagged as “pill mills”:

“In fact, some of those pill-mill prescribers specifically told their patients to fill their prescriptions at Walmart.”

What Does Walmart Say to This? And Are They Right?

As healthcare fraud and healthcare-based criminal law attorneys, we at Chapman Law Group find Walmart’s response interesting:

“This lawsuit invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context. Blaming pharmacists for not second-guessing the very doctors the Drug Enforcement Administration approved to prescribe opioids is a transparent attempt to shift blame from DEA’s well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place.”

Why do we say this is interesting? Because it actually points to a deeper issue: not bad doctors, but bad policy.

The controversial CDC guidelines for prescribing controlled substances are usurping federal criminal standards and state regulatory standards. This means doctors who want to do the right thing by their patient are limited. As Ronald W. Chapman II, chair of Chapman Law Group’s White Collar Defense & Government Investigations practice group, explained in one of our recent articles:

“[W]e’re seeing in more recent cases, prosecutions are data driven. Prosecutions are initiated before an investigator has even looked at a medical record, before an investigator has even interviewed a patient. And in many cases, even though patients are clearly suffering from severe medical issues, the fact that a patient may have exhibited some signs of diversion or may have had a prior history of diversion is enough for federal prosecutors to move forward and indict that doctor.

Instead of looking for signs of outright criminal behavior, these agencies are relying on signs of malpractice. Yet, without a deeper patient-by-patient investigation to analyze the context of a prescription pattern, a doctor’s behavior might not actually be malpractice at all.

From DEA to FDA, and from Audits to Inspections, Chapman Law Group is Your National Pharmacy Law Partner

We at Chapman Law Group strive to keep physicians, pain management specialists, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, and other licensed medical professionals apprised of how the DEA, DOJ, CDC, and other federal agencies operate. Our recent articles discuss:

Our law firm has four national offices, in DetroitSarasota, Florida; Miami; and Los Angeles/Southern California. Contact us to learn more about our pharmacy law services.

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Jonathan Meltz

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Healthcare-Based Criminal Law, Healthcare Fraud

Miami Office
701 Waterford Way, Suite 340
Miami, FL 33126

Phone: (305) 712-7177

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