On August 10, 2022, Judge Charles R. Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found the pharmaceutical chain Walgreens responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco. Judge Breyer determined that Walgreens failed in its duty to take “reasonable steps to prevent the drugs from being diverted and harming the public.” San Francisco City Attorney, David Chui, applauded the court’s decision and marked this as a huge step in holding companies and manufacturers accountable for fueling the opioid crisis.
Opioid Lawsuits Target Manufacturers, Distributors, and Pharmacy Chains
Opioids are a broad range of drugs that activate the opioid receptors in the brain to relieve mild to severe pain and boost sensations of pleasure. Doctors usually prescribe common opioids like Oxycodone or Codeine to manage pain levels after surgery. Prescription opioids produce relaxing and euphoric feelings in patients causing many people to become addicted.
The opioid epidemic began in the 1990s with Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin. Since then, many states and individuals have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy chains. These lawsuits allege that companies understated the addictiveness of opioids and falsely marketed them without disclosing the high risks. Also, plaintiffs argue that companies knew that opioids were overly prescribed and even lobbied doctors and politicians to increase opioid use in the country.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred all federal opioid cases to the Northern District of Ohio and appointed Judge Dan A. Polster to oversee MDL-2804. While there have been several large verdicts in the millions, there are still over 3,000 cases under MDL-2804.
San Francisco Wins Pivotal Trial Against Walgreens
The court held a bench trial from April 25 to June 27 that included the pharmaceutical companies AbbVie, Endo, Teva, and Walgreens. However, towards the end of the trial, every defendant settled except for Walgreens. On August 10, 2022, Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled in favor of San Francisco against Walgreens for the company’s role in aggravating the city’s opioid issues. Judge Breyer wrote that evidence illustrated that from 2006 to 2020, Walgreens in San Francisco dispensed hundreds of thousands of red flag opioid prescriptions written by doctors with suspect prescribing patterns. Additionally, Judge Breyer concluded that Walgreens failed to perform its due diligence to adequately review prescriptions and likely dispensed illegitimate opioid prescriptions, which contributed to San Francisco’s opioid epidemic. Between 2015 and 2020, San Francisco endured a nearly 500% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths. Furthermore, on a typical day at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) Emergency Department, approximately 25 percent of visits are opioid-related.
This is the fourth bellwether trial in MDL-2804 and the first bench trial to find Walgreens liable. The ruling marks another victory in San Francisco’s crusade against opioid companies. Back in July, the city reached a $54 million settlement with Allergan and Teva. The next stage will decide the amount Walgreens must pay San Francisco for its part in worsening the city’s opioid problems.