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Walgreens helped fuel the opioid epidemic in San Francisco by shipping and dispensing the addictive drugs without proper due diligence, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
In a 112-page opinion, US District Judge Charles Breyer highlighted shortcomings by the company responsible for shipping nearly 1 out of every 5 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed nationwide during the height of the opioid crisis. Walgreens, the only drug company sued by San Francisco that did not settle and went to trial in April, “substantially contributed” to the crisis by not stopping suspicious orders and the diversion of drugs for illicit 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 established that Walgreens breached these obligations.”
A trial will be held later to determine how much the company must pay the city to address the harms of the opioid crisis.
Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said the company was “disappointed” with 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, an attorney representing San Francisco and other communities across the country fighting drug companies, said the verdict will help in other cases.
“Walgreens has hidden, covered up and run from the truth throughout the entirety of this five-year litigation,” he said. “Walgreens knew its system to detect and stop suspicious orders was nonexistent but continued to ship opioids at an alarming pace 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, holding a trial in state court. In November, a jury in Ohio found that the company, along with CVS and Walmart, contributed to the opioid crisis in two counties — the first decision of its kind in a pharmacy case.
This story is developing and will be updated.