Walgreens contributed to San Francisco’s opioid epidemic through its sale of prescriptions across the city, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
The city of San Francisco sued Walgreens and several other drug makers and distributors in 2018, accusing the companies of having a role in the city’s opioid epidemic. The trial began in April and all of the other defendants have reached a settlement except for Walgreens.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that Walgreens had failed to properly investigate suspicious opioid orders for nearly 15 years and said the drug chain’s negligence in this area had contributed to the crisis of drugs in the city.
“Walgreens has a regulatory obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent drugs from being diverted and harming the public,” Breyer wrote in a 112-page notice. “The evidence at trial established that Walgreens breached these obligations.”
A subsequent lawsuit will determine the cost of damages the company will be forced to pay the city of San Francisco. In the meantime, the company said it was “disappointed” by the decision and plans to appeal.
“We have never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor have we distributed them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that have fueled this crisis,” Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said. , according to Reuters.
Peter Mougey, an attorney who represented San Francisco in the case, said the verdict will help other cases involving pharmaceutical distribution companies, reports The Washington Post.
“Walgreens hid, concealed and fled the truth throughout this five-year litigation,” Mougey said. “Walgreens knew its system for detecting and stopping suspicious orders was non-existent, but continued to ship opioids at an alarming rate to boost its profits. San Francisco is now about to begin the healing process.”
Walgreens was also found guilty in 2021 of contributing to the opioid crisis in a lawsuit related to two counties in Ohio, and it reached a $683 million settlement with the state of Florida in May, according to The Washington Post.
San Francisco’s opioid epidemic, which began in the 1990s, has worsened in recent years with the emergence of fentanyl, a highly addictive painkiller that has caused overdoses to rise across the country.
According to data from the San Francisco Medical Examiner, in 2021, 650 people died of drug overdoses in the city. In 2020, the number was 712, and the majority of those deaths are believed to have involved fentanyl.
In an article published in The Lancet In early February, Stanford researchers estimated that if no new action is taken to address the opioid epidemic, there will be 1.22 million opioid-related deaths nationwide between 2020 and 2029.
Newsweek contacted Walgreens for further comment.