Thousands Of Suspect Orders From Pharmacy Directly Caused Opioid Epidemic…

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Retail pharmacy giant Walgreens “substantially contributed” to San Francisco’s opioid crisis by ignoring red flags and continuing to fill prescriptions for drugs that later flooded the city’s streets.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that Walgreens failed to investigate suspicious opioid orders properly for nearly 15 years and said that the pharmaceutical chain’s neglect in that area contributed to the city’s drug crisis. This decision results from a month-long bench trial in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu sued Walgreens and several other drug manufacturers and distributors like Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in 2018 for public nuisance on behalf of the people of California.

At trial, the plaintiff had the burden of offering sufficient evidence to show Walgreens, more likely than not, knowingly engaged in unreasonable conduct that was a substantial factor in causing the San Francisco opioid epidemic. The court ruled this burden was met at trial.

Here’s what U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer wrote in a 112-page ruling, the culmination of a bench trial that unfolded over several months in federal court:

“The evidence at trial established that from 2006 to 2020, Walgreens pharmacies in San Francisco dispensed hundreds of thousands of red-flag opioid prescriptions without performing adequate due diligence.” 

Tens of thousands of these prescriptions were ordered by doctors whose prescribing patterns were suspect, Breyer found, yet Walgreens did not sufficiently staff or train its pharmacies to investigate these suspicious orders. Rather, he said pharmacists were under “constant pressure to fill prescriptions as quickly as possible.”

“A subsequent trial will be held to determine the extent to which Walgreens must abate the public nuisance that it helped to create,” the judge ordered.

“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.”

Peter Mougey, an attorney representing the city and other communities nationwide against big pharma companies, told The Washington Post that the verdict would help 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,” Mougey added.

Sources: DailyWire, The Washington Post, KTVU, KRON 4, CDC, Reuters