Walgreens helped fuel San Francisco’s opioid crisis, judges rules

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Walgreens helped fuel San Francisco’s opioid epidemic by shipping and dispensing the narcotics without due diligence, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

In a 112-page opinion, US District Judge Charles Breyer highlighted shortcomings at the company responsible for shipping nearly 1 in 5 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed nationwide during the height of the opioid crisis. Walgreens, the only drug company sued by San Francisco that failed to settle and went to court in April, contributed “significantly” to the crisis by failing to stop suspicious orders and the diversion of drugs for illicit use, causing public irritation , wrote Breyer.

“Walgreens has a regulatory obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent the drugs from being diverted and harming the public,” Breyer wrote. “The evidence in court showed that Walgreens breached those obligations.”

A trial is later held to determine how much the company must pay the city to address the damage of the opioid crisis.

Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said the company was “disappointed” with the decision and would appeal.

“As we have said during this process, we have never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor have we distributed them to the ‘pill mills’ and online pharmacies that have fueled this crisis,” he wrote in an email. “We stand behind the professionalism and integrity of our pharmacists, dedicated healthcare professionals who live in the communities they serve.”

Peter Mougey, an attorney representing San Francisco and other communities across the country fighting drug companies, said the ruling will help in other cases.

“Walgreens has hid, covered up and walked away from the truth throughout the five-year litigation,” he said. “Walgreens knew its system for detecting and stopping suspicious orders didn’t exist, but it continued to ship opioids at an alarming rate to boost profits. San Francisco is now one step closer to beginning the healing process.”

The decision comes after the company reached a $683 million settlement with the state of Florida in May and dropped a lawsuit in state court. In November, an Ohio jury found that the company, along with CVS and Walmart, contributed to the opioid crisis in two counties — the first such decision in a pharmacy case.

This story is evolving and updated.

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