Feinstein questions why opioid charges against Walmart were dropped

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wants the U.S. Department of Justice to explain why charges against Walmart concerning opioid prescriptions have been dropped.

In an April 2 letter, Feinstein asked U.S. Attorney General William Barr to explain why high ranking DOJ officials kept the U. S. Attorney’s office in Eastern Texas from bringing charges against Walmart for refusing to let its pharmacists block opioid prescriptions that came from suspected “pill mills.”

According to the letter, a 2011 Drug Enforcement Agency investigation into a Walmart pharmacy in California had found that the pharmacy repeatedly filled opioid prescriptions from unlicensed doctors. As a result, Walmart signed an agreement with the DEA pledging to implement procedures to “guard against improper opioid dispensing,” the letter said.

However, further investigation found that officials at the major retailer’s corporate headquarters refused to let its pharmacists do that, which the U.S. Attorney’s office felt led to drug overdose deaths of customers in Texas.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas was ready to indict the company when officials at Walmart appealed to “high-ranking Justice Department political appointees.”

“It is important to understand why the U.S. Attorney’s Office was overruled in this case, particularly because the acting DEA director supported bringing charges. Notably, it appears that the Justice Department decided not to pursue charges despite the fact that it had established a Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force designed to ‘use all criminal and civil tools at its disposal to hold distributors such as pharmacies, pain management clinics, drug testing facilities, and individual physicians accountable for unlawful actions.’,” Feinstein said in the letter. “It is likewise important to determine whether there is a loophole in existing law that requires reform and to rule out the possibility of political interference in the Department’s decision-making. I therefore respectfully request that by April 24, 2020, the Department provide records reflecting the initial charging recommendation and the role of political appointees at the Department’s headquarters in declining to pursue charges.”

Feinstein said that while doctors prescribing drugs were mostly to blame, there was a “corresponding responsibility” on pharmacists to only fill prescriptions that are valid and legal.