Many doctors have sued pharmacists and pharmacies—including Walmart—for blocking their prescriptions, saying they have tarnished their professional reputations.
There are many other examples, but you get the picture: the Department is putting pharmacists and pharmacies between a rock and a hard place by demanding they go further in second-guessing doctors, while state health regulators are saying they are going too far. Ultimately, patients are caught in the middle.
A Better Path: Clarity for Doctors, Patients and Pharmacists
Walmart is proud of our pharmacists, and we intend to defend against the Department’s lawsuit. We also need a real solution to the rock-and-a-hard-place problem. In working toward the best policy answer for this problem, each branch of government has a role to play in providing clarity for doctors, patients and pharmacists on how to handle opioid prescriptions.
What DOJ and DEA Can Do
For starters, DOJ and DEA could go through the proper rulemaking channels to clarify going forward what the agencies expect of pharmacies and pharmacists, rather than make them guess what DEA wants by looking at DEA’s scattered letters and PowerPoints (that have no legal authority, anyway). In fact, Walmart has filed a petition asking DEA to propose a rule-making to provide this much needed clarity.
And according to the Department’s own Inspector General, DEA needs to do a better job using the tools and legal authority Congress gave it to keep bad doctors from prescribing opioids. Right now, the Department’s current lawsuit tries to turn pharmacists and pharmacies into the prescriber police—even though they lack DEA’s authority and tools to do their job, and states say that they can’t under state law.
What Legislatures Can Do
Legislatures—state and federal—also have an important role. That’s why Walmart has been pressing for much-needed legislative reforms to help fix the opioid crisis. For example, legislatures could help protect pharmacists when they properly refuse to fill prescriptions, so they do not face retaliatory investigations and lawsuits—protections we have asked for in Georgia, for example.
What Courts Can Do
And the courts need to clarify what existing law says. That is why in October, Walmart proactively brought its own lawsuit, asking a court for clarification on what the law says pharmacists and pharmacies should do when a patient presents an opioid prescription that looks legitimate.
Our pharmacists and patients deserve better than the current bramble patch of inconsistent, conflicting and outright contradictory guidelines from federal and state regulators. Let’s work together to fix this.
Walmart is not alone. Read what others are saying.