Walmart files federal lawsuit, local doctor says patients have been caught in the middle

National News

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — The opioid crisis affects thousands of Americans daily; companies like Walmart work to curb addiction at their pharmacies by blocking questionable prescriptions.

However, in a federal lawsuit filed by the company on Thursday, Walmart leaders said federal agencies are asking them for too much, trying to require them to second-guess doctors’ orders on entire categories of prescriptions.

“It’s disturbing that this is the turn it’s taken,” said Dr. Joseph Sbarra, a local physician at Sickbay on Highway 77. News 13 interviewed him earlier this year when he said he’d had several patients say certain pharmacists were limiting their prescriptions that Dr. Sbarra had written.

“Patients have come back for a follow up after some trauma or an illness and mentioned that they weren’t getting the full dosage of pain medication or cough syrup from the pharmacy,” he said, adding that they said the pharmacists were also asking about their diagnoses. 

He said he’s not the only one who’s seen it. 

“I called the medical society and they were very much aware of it happening,” Dr. Sbarra said. “I’m not the only one in town who has run into this problem.”

Companies like Walmart have an “opioid crisis initiative” to help stop prescription drug abuse.  Walmart leaders said their pharmacists have blocked hundreds of thousands of questionable opioid prescriptions and helped law enforcement to catch “bad” doctors writing problematic opioid prescriptions.

However, Dr. Sbarra said that when it’s a legitimate prescription, the extra measures could end up actually hurting the patient. 

“We’re letting someone else who doesn’t have the medical background or even know the patient very well determine how much of a medication they’re getting,” he said.

Walmart leaders said in a news release on Thursday that they have filed a lawsuit against both the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration, saying that the agencies are trying to require them to do more to block prescriptions. 

In that release, they said “the DOJ is forcing Walmart and the company’s pharmacists between a rock and a hard place by saying it will sue Walmart for not doing more to second-guess doctors’ opioid prescriptions, while at the same time state health regulators are threatening Walmart and its pharmacists for going too far in interfering in the doctor-patient relationship.”

Walmart leaders said they believe it is the responsibility of the DOJ and its sub-agency, the DEA, to ensure that they are catching or not certifying “bad” doctors in the first place, instead of relying on Walmart pharmacists to be the middle-man blocking possible problematic prescriptions, potentially hurting patients with legitimate health needs and creating feuds and even lawsuits between Walmart pharmacists and area health professionals. 

Now, they’re asking the court to clarify Walmart pharmacists’ roles and responsibilities under the law when it comes to filing opioid prescriptions.

Dr. Sbarra said it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

“What are their criteria? What are they using,” he said. “How do they know what’s going on and who’s actually making that determination? Is it the pharmacist? Is it a corporate decision being made? But it’s obviously not helping the patients.”

The lawsuit is pending before the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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