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Federal Judge Finds Walgreens Liable for Substantially Contributing to the Opioid Crisis in San Francisco

August 24, 2022
Home Firm News Federal Judge Finds Walgreens Liable for Substantially Contributing to the Opioid Crisis in San Francisco

UPDATE: On May 17, 2023, Walgreens agreed to pay $230 million to settle this case over opioid distribution.

On August 10, 2022, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced that San Francisco, acting on behalf of the People of the State of California, won its landmark opioid trial against Walgreens pharmacy. Judge Charles R. Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found Walgreens is liable for substantially contributing to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco.

The Court found Walgreens over-dispensed opioids without proper due diligence and failed to identify, report, and halt suspicious orders as required by law. This is the first bench trial to decide in plaintiff’s favor in the national opioid litigation and the first bench trial to find Walgreens liable.

Throughout the case, City Attorney Chiu worked hand in hand with a team of outside counsel, including Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Andrus Anderson LLP, Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, and Levin Papantonio Rafferty, as well as Weitz & Luxenberg.

Weitz & Luxenberg represents over 70 cities and counties across the country in the national battle against pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and retailers whose deceptive marketing and reckless distribution of opioids has led to a national epidemic. Partner Ellen Relkin is a member of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee that directs the nationwide opioid litigation. Attorneys Paul Novak and Tiffany Ellis worked on the ground in San Francisco and played key roles throughout the landmark trial that lasted more than three months. 

In his decision, Judge Breyer succinctly described Walgreens’ years of misconduct that caused so much suffering in San Francisco: “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 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. Pharmacists experienced constant pressure to fill prescriptions as quickly as possible, and a shortage of resources to review them before dispensing. As a result of Walgreens’ fifteen-year failure to perform adequate due diligence, Plaintiffs proved that it is more likely than not that Walgreens pharmacies dispensed large volumes of medically illegitimate opioid prescriptions that were diverted for illicit use and that substantially contributed to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco.”

These corporate practices fueled a widespread surge of opioid-related addiction and overdose in San Francisco, creating an ongoing public nuisance in the region. From 2006 to 2014, San Francisco County saw 163,645,704 opioids distributed, enough for 22 pills per person per year. Between 2015 and 2020, San Francisco saw a 478% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths, and in a typical day at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) Emergency Department, approximately 25% of visits are opioid-related.

This trial is the fourth bellwether case in the federal opioid litigation proceeding involving more than 3,000 American cities, towns, and counties, bringing opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy chains to court for fueling the opioid epidemic. The Opioids litigation team in Weitz & Luxenberg’s Detroit office continues to represent dozens of governmental clients seeking justice for the opioid public nuisance. This case will serve as a test trial to help reach resolutions and seek accountability for the destruction the opioid industry caused nationwide.

The next stage of trial will determine the amount Walgreens must pay San Francisco to abate the nuisance they caused. The case is City and County of San Francisco, et al., v. Purdue Pharma L.P., et al., Case No. 3:18-cv-07591-CRB

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