American lawmen are going after Opioids Inc

“IN THE SHADOW of their own profound failures, DoJ and DEA now seek to retroactively impose…requirements that are not found in any law.” Unusually strong words to hurl at America’s Department of Justice and its Drug Enforcement Administration. They come from an unusual lawsuit filed by Walmart on October 22nd. It is a pre-emptive strike against the Feds, who are preparing to hammer the giant retailer for allegedly fuelling the opioid crisis.

Opioids Inc is under legal assault on several fronts. Drugmakers were first in the firing line. Last year a judge in Oklahoma ruled that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) had created a “public nuisance” by contributing to opioid abuse and ordered it to pay some $500m; J&J is appealing the verdict. The company also stands accused of wrongdoing, along with other firms, in lawsuits filed in federal courts by thousands of local governments. While insisting it did nothing wrong, J&J signalled this month that it is willing to cough up $5bn if a comprehensive settlement can be agreed.

For the world’s largest drug firm, with annual revenues of $56bn, such a hit would be a publicity nightmare but financially manageable. For smaller fry, litigation can prove fatal. On October 12th Mallinckrodt, a big purveyor of generic opioids, agreed to pay $1.6bn in a settlement as it filed for...



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