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

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Walgreens helped fuel the opioid epidemic in San Francisco by transporting and dispensing the addictive drugs without proper due diligence, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

In a 112-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer highlighted shortcomings at the company responsible for shipping nearly 1 in 5 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed nationwide during the opioid crisis. Walgreens, the only drug company sued by San Francisco that did not settle and go to trial in April, “substantially contributed” to the crisis by failing to stop suspicious orders and diversion of drugs for illegal use, causing a public nuisance, Breyer wrote .

“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 demonstrated that Walgreens breached these obligations.”

A trial will be held later to determine how much the company must pay the city to deal with the damage caused by the opioid crisis.

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

“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 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, a lawyer who represents San Francisco and other communities across the country fighting drug companies, said the ruling will help in other cases.

“Walgreens has been hiding, covering up and running from the truth throughout this five-year trial,” he said. “Walgreens knew the system to detect and stop suspicious orders did not exist, but continued to ship opioids at an alarming rate to increase profits. San Francisco is now one step closer to starting the healing process.”

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

This story is a work in progress and will be updated.

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