Judge says Walgreens contributed to San Francisco’s opioid crisis

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Walgreens could be held liable for contributing to San Francisco’s opioid crisis for years of overdispensing highly addictive drugs without proper oversight and for failing to identify and report suspicious orders as required by law.

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said the drugstore chain was “continually violating what it was required to do under federal controlled substance law,” failing to keep up with drug prescriptions. opioids, preventing pharmacists from checking prescriptions and “they also hadn’t seen the many red flags from doctors”. and others who over-prescribed.

“Pharmacists were pressured to fill, fill, fill,” he said, “and as a result, Walgreens filled our streets with opioids.”

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U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that for 15 years Walgreens handed out hundreds of thousands of pills, ultimately contributing to city hospitals being overwhelmed with opioid patients as libraries were forced to close because of toilets clogged with syringes and syringes littering children’s playgrounds in San Francisco.

A Walgreens spokesperson said the chain was disappointed with the outcome, which he said is not supported by facts and law.

“As we have said throughout this process, we have never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor distributed them to the ‘pill mills’ and online pharmacies that have fueled this crisis,” he said. spokesman Fraser Engerman said in a statement. “Plaintiff’s attempt to solve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law is misguided and untenable. We look forward to the opportunity to address these issues on appeal.

In 2018, San Francisco sued Walgreens and drug makers and distributors for the city’s worsening opioid epidemic, claiming they created a “public nuisance” by flooding the city with prescription opioids. . All other defendants previously settled with the city for a total of $114 million, including $54 million that opioid makers Allergan and Teva agreed to pay on the eve of the trial’s closing arguments, leaving Walgreens as the sole defendant.

Wednesday’s ruling did not include a ruling on damages, which will be determined at an upcoming trial.

The opioid epidemic has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the United States over the past two decades, counting those from prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and generic oxycodone as well as illicit drugs such as heroin and illegally produced fentanyl.

The spike in deaths has led to more than 3,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and other entities in state and federal courts over the toll of opioids. In San Francisco, the mayor of London Breed declared a state of emergency in the Tenderloin neighborhood last year, saying something had to be done about the high concentration of drug dealers and people who use drugs in public.

The city attorney’s office said San Francisco saw a nearly 500% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths between 2015 and 2020 and that on a typical day, about a quarter of ward visits emergency rooms at Zuckerberg General Hospital in San Francisco were related to opioids.

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In 2020, 712 people died from drug overdoses, compared to 257 people who died from COVID-19, according to the city’s health department.

A high percentage of around 7,800 homeless people in San Francisco — many of whom pitch tents in the Tenderloin — struggle with chronic addictions or serious mental illness, often both. Some people are declaiming in the streets, naked and in need of medical help.

Pharmacy chains have been sued less often than opioid manufacturers or wholesalers who distribute pharmaceuticals more widely. In a groundbreaking case, a federal jury in Ohio last year found that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart recklessly distributed massive amounts of painkillers in two counties in Ohio.

In May, Walgreens reached a $683 million settlement with the state of Florida in a lawsuit accusing the company of improperly distributing millions of painkillers that contributed to the opioid crisis. . Walgreens did not admit wrongdoing in its deal with Florida and will make payments to the state over 18 years.

The company also faces litigation in Alabama, Michigan and New Mexico, among other states.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., based in Deerfield, Illinois, operates a network of approximately 9,000 pharmacies in the United States. Walgreens and other prescription drug distributors have faced a slew of lawsuits over the opioid crisis.

Associated Press writer Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this report.


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