SF City Attorney: 'Walgreens Filled Our Streets With Opioids'

Judge rules that chain can be held responsible for contributing to crisis
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 10, 2022 6:15 PM CDT
Judge: Walgreens Played a Part in SF Opioid Crisis
Tents line a sidewalk in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

(Newser) – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Walgreens can be held responsible for contributing to San Francisco's opioid crisis for over-dispensing highly addictive drugs for years without proper oversight and failing to identify and report suspicious orders as required by law. San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said the pharmacy chain "continually violated what they were required to do under the federal Controlled Substances Act," failing to track opioid prescriptions, and preventing pharmacists from vetting prescriptions. "Nor did they see the many red flags of physicians and others who were dramatically over-prescribing," Chiu said, the AP reports.

Pharmacists were pressured to "fill, fill, fill," he said, "and as a result, Walgreens filled our streets with opioids." US District Judge Charles Breyer wrote in his decision 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 written by doctors with suspect prescribing patterns. The evidence showed that Walgreens did not provide its pharmacists with sufficient time, staffing, or resources to perform due diligence on these prescriptions."

He said the large volume of illegitimate opioid prescriptions contributed to the city’s hospitals being overwhelmed with opioid patients, libraries being forced to close because of syringe-clogged toilets, and syringes littering children’s playgrounds. A Walgreens spokesman said the chain is disappointed in the outcome and plans to appeal. San Francisco in 2018 sued Walgreens and drug manufacturers and distributors over the city's worsening opioid epidemic, saying they created a “public nuisance” by flooding the city with prescription opioids. All the other defendants previously settled with the city for a total of $114 million. Wednesday's ruling did not decide monetary damages, which will be determined in a future trial.

(Read more Walgreens stories.)

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