America has a drug crisis. Doctors overprescribe powerful, addictive painkillers. People overuse. Pharmacists overfill . . . and everyone’s playing the blame game. One company is fighting back—by suing before getting sued.
Opioid drugs block pain in the human brain. For hundreds of years, doctors have prescribed opioids for people with severe pain or chronic health issues.
In the 1990s, drug companies began aggressively advertising certain opioids. Some companies dishonestly claimed that side effects were few. The companies rewarded doctors who prescribed their pills. That led to so-called “pill mills”—dodgy doctors who handed out prescriptions often unwisely, sometimes illegally, and by the boatload.
The problem is that people build up a tolerance to opioid drugs with continued use. That means they need more of the drug to get the same relief. Then they take the medicine even when they are pain-free. Opioid addiction quickly became a national health crisis.
It’s human nature to blame others when things go wrong. The biblical Adam wouldn’t admit his sin. Instead, he told God, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree. . . .” Eve is no better. She blames the serpent. (Genesis 3:12-13)
Some people say partial blame for the U.S. opioid horror lies with Walmart. With nearly 5,000 pharmacies, the world’s largest retailer company fills tens of thousands of opioid prescriptions every week.
Two years ago, Walmart changed its prescription guidelines after criticism. Pharmacists began questioning or rejecting opioid prescriptions. They dispensed smaller amounts of certain drugs. The actions angered state officials. Many said the company was violating laws and trampling on doctors’ rights.
The federal government and several state governments began investigating Walmart’s pharmacy practices.
Meanwhile, Walmart filed its own claim. The company says the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) should examine and enforce their own policies.
Walmart says the DOJ blames Walmart pharmacists for filling “bad prescriptions.” But Walmart claims those scripts came from doctors supported by DEA and state regulators.
Walmart’s lawsuit states that its pharmacists could be held responsible “for failing to second-guess DEA-registered doctors and refuse their prescriptions.” It also points out that pharmacists who refuse to fill could “face the wrath of state medical boards, the medical community at large, individual doctors, and patients.”
It’s a can’t-win quandary: Don’t fill bad prescriptions. Don’t question a doctor’s orders.
Other large pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, are facing similar problems. Federal and state laws—and human greed—have created a web of clashing rules, demands, and expectations. In this case, just what the doctor ordered may be part of the problem.