“Walgreens has regulatory obligations to take reasonable steps to prevent drugs from diverting and harming the public,” Breyer wrote. “The evidence at the trial revealed that Walgreens violated these obligations.”
A trial will be held later to determine how much the company has to pay the city to offset the damages of the opioid crisis. The city doesn’t have an estimated amount to call yet.
Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman said the company was “disappointed” with the decision and will appeal.
“As we said throughout this process, we never produced or marketed opioids, we did not distribute them to the ‘pill factories’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis,” he said in an email. “We stand behind the professionalism and integrity of our pharmacists, who are dedicated healthcare professionals living in the communities they serve.”
City Attorney David Chiu said the first court trial finding Walgreens responsible for the opioid epidemic was “of national importance” in a years-long effort to hold drug distributors and pharmacies accountable. As the company recently closed its stores in the city and citing the effects of the drug epidemic, Chiu accused Walgreens of changing the blame.
“This is like an arsonist complaining about the fire,” he said at a press conference.
The decision marks a second blow for the pharmacy giant – thousands of other lawsuits are left by states, cities and counties. Unlike the three largest drug distributors and drug makers Johnson & Johnson and Teva, Walgreens did not reach a national agreement. Purdue Pharma did not go bankrupt, as did the manufacturers Mallinckrodt and Insys.
In a 112-page commentary, Breyer explained the details of the city’s drug crisis and the timeline of Walgreens’ response to drug addiction. Paul Geller, an attorney representing San Francisco and other communities around the country battling drug companies, said the decision was “no more than a casual legal decision” and pointed to meticulous details about the city’s crisis and roads. Walgreens contributed.
“I hope it’s properly circulated in Big Pharma boardrooms across the country,” Geller said, “because its meticulously detailed decision should be a wake-up call for companies and ensure that this never happens again.”
Peter Mougey, an attorney who also represents San Francisco and other communities, said the ruling would help in other cases.
“For the entirety of this five-year trial, Walgreens hid the truth, covered it up, and escaped the truth,” he said. “Walgreens knew there was no system to detect and stop suspicious orders, but continued to ship opioids at an alarming rate to increase profits. San Francisco is now one step closer to starting the recovery process.”
The decision comes after the company reached a $683 million settlement with the state of Florida in May and stopped a case in state court. one in November The Ohio jury found that the company, along with CVS and Walmart, contributed to the opioid crisis in two countries. – the first decision of its kind in a pharmacy case.
Walgreens stopped distributing opioids after the Drug Enforcement Administration closed a warehouse in 2012.
But the city argued that the impact of Walgreens shipping and distribution continues to resonate as drug users move from prescription pills to heroin and fentanyl as the illicit drug market develops.
Opioid overdoses, including heroin and fentanyl, skyrocketed in San Francisco, with a 478 percent increase in these deaths and climbing 584 between 2015 and 2020, according to data from the city. Opioid-related emergency room visits have tripled at the same time, reaching nearly 3,000 in 2020.
During the trial, city officials testified about the extent to which the crisis had infiltrated daily life. One park ranger said needles were removed from the city’s parks “like changing toilet paper in toilets.” When paramedics respond to someone who has no pulse and isn’t breathing, they assume it’s an opioid overdose.
The judge said Walgreens’ system of tracking suspicious orders under the Controlled Substances Act was ineffective. Thousands of suspicious orders were sent to their pharmacies without investigation.
Breyer’s decision has criticized the company and faulty executives who have failed to stop the diversion of drugs and have repeatedly denied internal requests for a centralized database of reports on suspicious customers. He said the head of compliance was “vague and evasive” on the podium.
The judge sided with the city, acknowledging that the company puts pressure on pharmacists who have little time and supervision before dispensing drugs. Pharmacists filled out due diligence forms on paper and kept them in file cabinets rather than electronically. The pharmacist in one store could not access the records in other locations.
If pharmacists refused to fill a prescription, they gave a rejection note on their internal computer system, which was limited to 320 characters.
“Walgreens pharmacies operate in information silos,” Breyer said. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
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