US District Judge Charles Breyer ruled Wednesday that the nationwide pharmacy chain Walgreens contributed to and is liable for the opioid epidemic in San Francisco. 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 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.
From 2006 – 2020 Walgreens distributed over 100 million prescription opioid pills in the city. The court ruled that Walgreens dispensed these pills without adequate due diligence. The court also ruled that Walgreens failed to screen for suspicious orders of opioids. A subsequent trial will determine what Walgreens must pay for the public nuisance it helped to create.
In response to the ruling, Chiu stated:
This crisis did not come out of nowhere. It was created by the opioid industry, and local jurisdictions like San Francisco have had to shoulder the burden for far too long. We are grateful the Court heard our arguments and held Walgreens responsible for the damage they caused.
Last month, San Francisco reached a $58 million settlement with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Allergan for fueling the opioid epidemic in the city.