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Judge Rules Walgreens Can Be Held Liable For Overprescribing Opioids in SF, In Landmark Decision

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Judge Rules Walgreens Can Be Held Liable For Overprescribing Opioids in SF, In Landmark Decision

A huge win for City Attorney David Chiu, as a judge rules in the city’s favor and against Walgreens, who apparently prescribed more than 100 million opioid pills in San Francisco alone.

We reported in April that San Francisco was suing Walgreens for creating an opioid “public menace” — that is, prescribing way too many opioid pills, which may have led to the fentanyl crisis, which paradoxically, itself may have contributed to all the Walgreens shoplifting.

As that suit made its way through the courts, the Chronicle went through the details of the lawsuit last month, and found stunning revelations. “Nearly 6.4 million doses of opioids were filled through San Francisco Walgreens from dozens of doctors who were under active investigation or had suspended licenses,” the Chronicle reported. “One Mission District Walgreens dispensed more than 86,000 prescriptions written by a single doctor, even after pharmacists raised concerns about the frequency and size of the scripts.”

“One Bayview pharmacist said that he dispensed opioids to a patient, only to see that patient sell them in the parking lot outside moments later,” the Chronicle added.

Details like these were enough to hand SF City Attorney David Chiu a victory in the landmark case. The Chronicle reports that Wednesday morning, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that Walgreens can be held responsible for overprescribing opioids in San Francisco.

“This decision gives voice to the thousands of lives lost to the opioid epidemic,” Chiu said in a press release. “This crisis did not come out of nowhere. It was created by the opioid industry, and local jurisdictions like San Francisco have had to shoulder the burden for far too long.”

The Chronicle notes that in addition to those standout Mission District and Bayview pharmacy cases described above, that “Between 2006 and 2020, Walgreens distributed more than 100 million prescription opioid pills to pharmacies in San Francisco while failing to take actions to identify suspicious prescriptions or prevent their illegal and harmful use.”

The other defendants in the case, opioid manufacturers Allergan and Teva, settled with the city for $54 million last month.

For  their part, Walgreens claims innocence and vows to appeal the ruling. “We never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis,” Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman said in a statement to Reuters.

Whether or not Walgreens does appeal the ruling, they’re still going back to court. Judge Breyer’s ruling was merely in the city’s favor, and financial damages will be determined in a separate trial (unless Walgreens settles the suit before then).

But the tide has certainly turned against the retail chain. Walgreens has already settled similar suits against them in Florida, while Tennessee and Utah lawsuits are still ongoing.

And the gigantic payouts may be fair. According to an American Society of Addiction Medicine study quoted in Chiu’s lawsuit, “about 80 percent of current heroin users reported that they began with prescription opioids.”

Related: SF Suing Walgreens for Creating an Opioid ‘Public Menace,’ and This Sure Changes the Whole Walgreens Discourse [SFist]

Image: Stephanie Rhee via Unsplash

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