Wal-Mart's "Frightening" Narcotics Deal

Illegal Aliens Deliver Fear & Loathing To Wal-Mart Pharmacies

By Al Norman

One of the world's largest drug store chains is employing a very unusual---and provocative---method for sourcing its drugs.

This week mighty Wal-Mart found itself at the center of a street-level drug deal that raised larger questions about where and how the retailer gets its cheap drugs.

In June of 2008, I wrote in this space about Wal-Mart's global sourcing empire for prescription drugs, quoting one pharmaceutical industry analyst as saying, Wal-Mart drugs "come from all over the world. They're U.S. manufacturers, Israeli and Indian manufacturers. They have a choice of where to buy these drugs."

But this week, Wal-Mart's choice of drug vendors made some small town news. The corporation was tight-lipped about a narcotics source that raised lingering questions about where the giant retailer is really getting its cheap drugs, and what product safety and procurement protections are in place at the retailer's pharmacies. In fact, the whole incident was described by the ABC news affiliate that broke the story as "strange."

Strange, but also unsettling. ABC 4 News in Cedar City, Utah---a town of roughly 28,000 people---reported that a routine traffic stop of three men led to a bizarre tale of prescription narcotics, illegal couriers, a Las Vegas drug supplier, and the world's largest retailer.

Diego Jimenez, Maricio Jimenez, and Kyle Gutierrez are being held in a jail in Iron County while local authorities sift through their odd story. Police pulled over their car as it was traveling north on Route 15 just south of 100 miles per hour. The men claim they were hired to deliver prescription drugs to at least three Wal-Mart stores, including the superstore on South Providence Drive in Cedar City, Utah, which has an in-store pharmacy. The three men reportedly had already been to the Wal-Mart supercenter in St. George, Utah, which is south of Cedar City on Route 15, and the Wal-Mart superstore on Route 15 further south in Mesquite, Nevada, on the border with Arizona.

While searching the car, police found marijuana paraphernalia, two boxes of prescription narcotics, and a retail invoice for $30,000. Two of the three men in the car admitted to being illegal aliens. The men claimed they had been retained by a company called Nevada Courier, given $150 and a tank of gas to "drive these medications down here and drop them off."

The three suspects arrested are all reportedly from Las Vegas. The police verified their story by checking with the retailer. "I called Wal-Mart," one police spokesman told ABC news, "and they said yeah they were expecting a delivery and the driver was late."

Wal-Mart would not shed more light on the case when contacted by ABC, but sent reporters an email which read, "This situation is unacceptable to Wal-Mart. We maintain strict standards for courier companies that transport products for us. As this was a situation involving a contractor, your questions would need to be addressed by the courier company or the police."

But Iron County Sheriffs were talking, and they told ABC, "You don't know if they opened the box, no tamper seals, nothing...so you never know what you're going to get I guess." The ABC piece added: "Sheriffs say what's frightening here is the safety of Wal-Mart's pharmacy customers."

Wal-Mart has been in the pharmacy business since 1978, and has over 4,264 pharmacy locations in the U.S. alone. The company boasts of its high-tech software system that gives its pharmacists access to a "huge database" across the country. Yet a company with this sophistication is obtaining narcotics from a carload of illegal "couriers" barreling up Route 15 at 96 miles per hour.

Wal-Mart is right: this situation is "unacceptable." But the issue here is not only Wal-Mart's credibility. The issue is the safety of Wal-Mart customers. Where are these drugs really coming from? Who are these couriers? Why are narcotics being driven to stores in a manner reminiscent of Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas?

Regulatory officials in Utah and Nevada need to track the supply chain in this case, and report back on reforms needed to deal with Wal-Mart's unacceptable narcotics deals. Consumers put all their confidence in these national chain stores---but if this "strange" tale from Cedar City, Utah was enough to frighten the cops, it should scare the rest of us as well.

At Wal-Mart, you never know what you're going to get, I guess.

Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters, and has been helping local activists fight big box stores for nearly 16 years. His website is http://www.sprawl-busters.com.