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Walgreens fueled San Francisco's opioid crisis with thousands of 'suspicious orders,' judge rules

Summer Lin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Walgreens helped fuel the opioid epidemic in San Francisco by shipping hundreds of thousands of "suspicious orders" of prescription drugs to its pharmacies, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

More than 100 million prescription opioid pills were dispensed by Walgreens in the city between 2006 and 2020, and during that time, the pharmacy giant failed to investigate hundreds of thousands of orders deemed suspicious, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer wrote in his 112-page opinion in a lawsuit filed by San Francisco against major prescription-drug sellers.

How much the company will have to pay will be determined at a later trial date.

"Walgreens has regulatory obligations to take reasonable steps to prevent the drugs from being diverted and harming the public," Breyer wrote. "The evidence at trial established that Walgreens breached these obligations."

The public nuisance lawsuit, filed by the city in 2018, also included claims against Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Endo International, as well as McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health — three of the biggest drug distributors in the country.

Walgreens was the only company that didn't reach a settlement with the city before the court ruling. Johnson & Johnson and the three drug distributors were part of a $26-billion nationwide settlement earlier this year.


The company expressed its disappointment with the court ruling and said it's planning to appeal, according to Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman.

"As we have said throughout this process, we never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the 'pill mills' and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis," he said in a statement. "We stand behind the professionalism and integrity of our pharmacists, dedicated healthcare professionals who live in the communities they serve."

Peter Mougey, one of the attorneys representing the city, said the verdict sheds a light on the negligence Walgreens displayed in failing to stop the opioid epidemic in San Francisco.

"The sun has set on Walgreens' attempt to hide the evidence of its nonexistent opioid compliance program while it instead focused on profits by flooding San Francisco with a tsunami of pills," he said. "Judge Breyer's 100-page order meticulously covers the two months of evidence presented at trial. San Francisco can now take meaningful steps cleaning up the mess Walgreens created."


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