A West Virginia court ordered Walmart to disclose internal opioid dispensing documentation supplied to state and federal agencies investigating the retail giant's alleged role in the opioid epidemic.
The court rebuffed Walmart's arguments Tuesday, some of which included that its national dispensing practices were not relevant to West Virginia, the request was overly burdensome and that it couldn't reveal the documents because of an ongoing federal investigation. The data will shed light on Walmart's potential non-compliance with state and federal regulations and reveal Walmart's knowledge of the likely effects of its national policies and procedures in West Virginia, the court ruled, ordering Walmart to supply the documents by Nov. 23.
The country will be dealing with the aftermath of the opioid epidemic for the next 10 to 20 years, and hospitals and healthcare organizations will have to bear the brunt of it, said Darren Nicholson, a partner at Burns Charest who represents hospitals that sued drugmakers and distributors for allegedly creating a public nuisance by ignoring "red flags" in sales and distribution patterns. The lawsuit, along with cases brought by dozens of West Virginia counties, cities and towns, will be heard by a "mass litigation panel" of judges as part of a consolidated bench trial.
"This is a very positive development because hospitals are in the same position as the cities and counties. They are trying to recoup hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, they expended nationwide to address the opioid crisis," Nicholson said.
Walmart did not respond to requests for comment on this specific order, but denied the claims in an earlier ruling, noting in a statement that it "continues to believe that the evidence will show neither Walmart nor its board engaged in any misconduct."
The West Virginia court cited some discrepancies in Walmart's characterization of federal investigations, describing the inconsistent representations as "concerning, to say the least."
Walmart claimed that the U.S. Justice Department's investigation was closed during the proceedings of a shareholder suit brought by two pension funds in Delaware, which involved a request for information to investigate wrongdoing and mismanagement in opioid practices known to the Walmart board.
In its objection to discovery in the West Virginia case, Walmart said the company couldn't turn over the information because the DOJ investigation was ongoing.
"It's hard to reconcile what Walmart is saying in these two courts," Nicholson said.
Separate from the West Virginia consolidated case, more than 3,000 states and local governments are suing pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies—including Walmart—over the opioid crisis. That consolidated case, which includes some West Virginia municipalities, is being heard in Cleveland federal court.
The DOJ announced Wednesday that OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharmaceuticals plead guilty to three federal criminal charges including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and violating anti-kickback laws as part of a $8 billion settlement.