Walmart is making headlines for its alleged stance on opioid sales and the threats that it made to workers who didn’t comply.
“When Ashwani Sheoran showed up for early morning shifts at pharmacies in rural Michigan wearing his white Walmart smock, he often found customers waiting, desperate for bottles of pain pills.
‘I see my patients, 15 to 20, already lined up to get prescriptions filled for morphine sulfate, oxycodone and other straight narcotics,’ he said.
This was in 2012 when the prescription opioid epidemic was exploding, killing tens of thousands of Americans every year.
Sheoran, now 41, told NPR he kept seeing what the Drug Enforcement Administration considers ‘red flags.’ Patients were driving long distances to buy their pills from Walmart. They couldn’t explain why they needed such powerful opioid doses.
He started raising alarms, sending emails to his bosses in Michigan and to Walmart headquarters in Arkansas. He warned that their pharmacies were feeding a black market for opioids like Oxycontin.
What happened next made him angry. ‘They start putting more pressure on me to just be quiet and not to say anything more,’ Sheoran said.
‘They told me, “Do not reach out to the DEA, do not call the police. If you do so, your employment is going to be terminated immediately,”‘ Sheoran said, describing a warning he said was issued by his supervisor.
Walmart is facing a public reckoning over its role in the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic, which killed about 450,000 Americans from 1999 to 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Justice Department, along with state and local governments, are suing the retail giant, claiming Walmart shipped and sold billions of highly addictive pills without proper safeguards.
Walmart says the company acted responsibly.
But Sheoran wasn’t alone in raising concerns. An NPR investigation, based on interviews and government court filings, found that Walmart pharmacists warned for years about opioid sales that appeared dangerous or illegal.”
For the full investigative reports, visit NPR here.