Walmart pharmacists warned for years about potentially illegal opioid sales, report finds

Walmart pharmacists warned the company for years of opioid sales that seemed dangerous or illegal, and some claim Walmart pressured them not to report the suspicious behavior, NPR reported. 

Ashwani Sheoran, a former Walmart pharmacist, told NPR he emailed Walmart's headquarters to warn them that their pharmacies were contributing to a black market for opioids, but the company pressured him not to report anything. 

"They told me, 'Do not reach out to the DEA, do not call the police. If you do so, your employment is going to be terminated immediately,'" he told NPR

Walmart operates more than 5,000 pharmacies in the U.S.

Mr. Sheoran reported suspicious opioid prescriptions to local police and the Drug Enforcement Administration. He was suspended and later fired by Walmart in 2013, according to NPR

An NPR investigation of government documents found Walmart pharmacists around the country warned the company for years about suspicious opioid prescriptions. The opioid crisis killed about 450,000 Americans from 1999 to 2018. 

Walmart pharmacists also sent emails to company executives saying they were worried they'd lose their licenses or jobs because of opioid sales, NPR reported. 

The U.S. Justice Department sued Walmart Dec. 22, claiming it contributed to the opioid crisis by failing to properly screen its pharmacies for abusive prescribing practices. 

Walmart has said it's the government's job to crack down on physicians giving suspicious opioid prescriptions. 

"By demanding pharmacists and pharmacies second-guess doctors, the Justice Department is putting pharmacists and pharmacies between a rock and a hard place," Walmart said in a news release.

"In contrast to DEA’s own failures, Walmart always empowered our pharmacists to refuse to fill problematic opioids prescriptions, and they refused to fill hundreds of thousands of such prescriptions. Walmart sent DEA tens of thousands of investigative leads, and we blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled at our pharmacies," the company said

A Walmart spokesperson sent a statement to Becker's Hospital Review pointing to a webpage detailing the company's efforts to address the opioid crisis. 

"With the help of a team of investigators and experts, Walmart has also blocked thousands of questionable doctors from having their opioid prescriptions filled by any of our pharmacists, and we frequently assist law enforcement in bringing bad doctors to justice," the company said

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