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San Francisco’s lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors heads to trial next week

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu is litigating on behalf of the people of California in the case. (Photo By Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

A lawsuit aimed at holding prominent opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for their role in San Francisco’s substance abuse crisis is headed to a bench trial in federal court on Monday. 

The case, brought on behalf of the people of California by the San Francisco City Attorney, seeks financial compensation from Walgreens, the pharmaceutical companies AbbVie, Endo and Teva, and a Teva subsidiary called Anda. Originally filed in December 2018, the lawsuit alleges that the companies created a public nuisance and engaged in unfair competition and manipulative marketing practices to mislead patients into dangerous drug use. 

“[These companies] are flooding our marketplace with prescription drugs that in many instances led individuals to become addicted to these drugs and go on using illegal substances,” City Attorney David Chiu said at a virtual press conference on Wednesday. “The defendants also had knowledge that suspicious opioid orders and diversion into illegal markets were occurring. All of them routinely disregarded this information in order to keep selling more opioids.” 

The lawsuit is one of a plethora of state and federal lawsuits opioid distributors face in light of a nationwide addiction crisis. In the past 25 years, opioid overdoses have taken more lives in the U.S. and Canada than both world wars, according to a report from Stanford University.

In April, the state of Florida reached a settlement agreement for over $870 million to be distributed over 17 years from several companies including CVS, Teva and Allergan. New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia have also reached settlements collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  

San Francisco already reached a tentative $10 million settlement with the pharmaceutical company Endo as a result of the litigation. Pending the finalization of the settlement agreement, Chiu said that he plans to drop them from the trial. The funds, $5 million of which is expected immediately while the rest will be distributed over the next 10 years, will be used to combat the ongoing drug use epidemic in the city, according to Chiu.  

One hundred and forty-four people died from overdoses in the first three months of this year in San Francisco, bringing the total death toll from overdoses to 1,946 since January 2019. And the city’s emergency responders reversed 820 overdoses between December 14 and April 3.  

Between 2006 and 2014, the companies named in the lawsuit supplied over 163 million pain pills to San Francisco, according to Chiu. 

“They need to be held accountable and that's what we intend to do when we begin trial next week,” Chiu said. 

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer will hear arguments and testimony in the case starting on Monday, April 25.

David Sjostedt can be reached at