Former Walmart Pharmacists Say Company Ignored Red Flags As Opioid Sales Boomed
The nation’s well-documented opioid crisis took a major turn in October when the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil suit against Walmart for failing to prevent highly addictive prescription drugs from being dispensed illegally.
National Public Radio (NPR) followed with an investigation in January exposing how Walmart and other mammoth drug companies ignored the problem.
The opioid epidemic killed 450,000 people from 1999 to 2018 and has left millions of others struggling to survive a life of drug dependence. Doctors were also blamed for serving as “pill-mills” for black market drug diverters who re-sell the products to desperate addicts on the streets.
Opioid Crisis Red Flags
Walmart pharmacies failed to take corrective action when doctors and patients acted suspiciously, NPR reported. These were some of the behaviors that raised questions:
- Prescriptions were not filled out properly.
- Prescribing physicians’ signatures appeared to have been generated by a computer.
- Pharmacists couldn’t reach prescribing doctors by phone to verify.
- Healthy people seemed to be buying straight narcotics without appearing to have a medical condition that would warrant it.
- Customers drove long distances to get prescriptions filled.
- Customers arrived early to pick up their medicine, lining up before the store was due to open.
- Suspected “pill mill” doctors would send patients to Walmart if other pharmacies turned them down.
How Walmart Pharmacists Sounded the Alarm
Pharmacists, especially those working at Walmart locations, became concerned about suspicious behaviors among their customers. They feared that they, the company, and the patients were at serious risk. They took the issue to their managers, some of whom blew it off, as did Walmart executives.
Some pharmacists were told they would be let go if they reported the activity to the authorities. Some, in fact, lost their jobs as a result, according to the NPR report.
Pharmacists Control Opioids
In addition to simply dispensing medications, pharmacists are responsible for being a second gatekeeper in protecting the public’s health and well-being. This duty is outlined in the federal Controlled Substances Act. It includes guarding customers against overzealous prescribers and retail drug stores. Most pharmacists take this responsibility seriously.
Walmart, on the other hand, laid the blame on the prescribing doctors and the government regulators who they feel should have taken action against doctors, NPR reports. The company noted that it refused hundreds of thousands of suspicious prescriptions.
Legal Actions over Opioids
Government agencies, for their part, have attempted to curb the misuse of opioids. Besides federal authorities, state and local law enforcement agencies have taken action as well.
Other drug giants, including CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreen’s, face consequences similar to Walmart. Purdue Pharma settled with the government for $8.3 billion.
One Walmart pharmacist used the federal whistleblower statute, designed to protect employees who report illegal activities. He felt Walmart was feeding a black market for opioids. Others felt the same way and warned for years about what they felt was illegal activity. Their concerns were cast aside.
Walmart signed an agreement with the federal government. The company responded that the government’s guidance was vague, confusing, and contradictory. With more than 5,000 pharmacies across the country, Walmart’s sheer size made it difficult to control.
Contact a Dangerous Drug Attorney in Connecticut
Many people across the country have been harmed in some way by the opioid crisis. It tears at the heart of people from all walks of life. If you or someone you love has suffered as a result of improper dispensing of opioids, the personal injury lawyers at Wocl Leydon, LLC want to hear your story. Contact us now for a free case review.