San Francisco has won a landmark trial against Walgreens in a nationwide tangle of lawsuits involving companies that manufactured and distributed opioids. The City Attorney’s office describes the win as a bellwether with national impact as jurisdictions across the country grapple with addiction crises.
In an Aug. 10 opinion, Federal Judge Charles Breyer wrote that Walgreens breached a regulatory duty to take “reasonable steps to prevent the drugs from being diverted and harming the public.”
Breyer wrote that Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in San Francisco, failed to identify “red flags” that opioid prescriptions were either issued by doctors with suspect prescribing patterns or were not used for a legitimate medical purpose.
The court held a bench trial from April 25 to June 27. By the end of the trial, Walgreens was the sole remaining defendant; other defendants, which included the pharmaceutical companies AbbVie, Endo and Teva, had settled their claims.
The Walgreens case in San Francisco is one of a dozen so-called bellwether cases that targeted various aspects of a pharmaceutical supply chain that wound up ensnaring millions of Americans nationwide and laying the groundwork for the city's current overdose crisis.
"This is the first bench trial that has found against Walgreens," City Attorney David Chiu said in an interview. "And I think it's reflective of the fact that we we put in the significant evidence that demonstrates their liability for creating the incredible public nuisance and tragedy that we're seeing on our city streets, as well as across America when it comes to the opioid crisis."
The city attorney's office worked with private law firms Leiff Cabraser and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP on the case, and plans to seek financial restitution commensurate with the resources the city needs to combat the local addiction crisis.
In July, the city reached a $54 million settlement with drugmakers Allergan and Teva as part of a complex case that dates back to 2018. All told, the city attorney's office said it has secured more than $120 million in cash payments and other benefits that will contribute to overdose prevention and opioid abatement programs.
Annie Gaus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org