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Walgreens to pay San Francisco $230M for its role in city's opioid crisis

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announces a $230 million settlement with Walgreens on Wednesday from the steps of city hall after a federal court found that the pharmaceutical chain “substantially contributed” to the city's opioid epidemic. Photo courtesy of San Francisco City Attorney's office
San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announces a $230 million settlement with Walgreens on Wednesday from the steps of city hall after a federal court found that the pharmaceutical chain “substantially contributed” to the city's opioid epidemic. Photo courtesy of San Francisco City Attorney's office

May 18 (UPI) -- Walgreens has agreed to pay San Francisco nearly $230 million for its role in the city's opioid crisis, making it the largest award to a local jurisdiction since the beginning of the opioid epidemic.

City Attorney David Chiu announced the settlement Wednesday from the steps of city hall following last year's federal court ruling that Walgreens "substantially contributed" to the opioid crisis in San Francisco.

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"Extremely dangerous and addictive opioids were marketed to patients as safe," Chiu told reporters. "We now know that was a blatant lie."

Walgreens will make payments over the next eight years, with the first $57 million to be paid by June of 2024.

"Walgreens over-dispensed opioids without due diligence and failed to report suspicious orders as required by law," Chiu said. "They were more concerned with profit than following their legal obligations ... pressuring their pharmacists to fill, fill, fill."

Chiu's office sued Walgreens, Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers, distributors and dispensers in 2018. Every defendant settled with San Francisco by the end of the trial last year, except for Walgreens.

San Francisco received settlements from manufacturers Johnson & Johnson and Teva, distributors AmerisourceBergen and pharmacy chains CVS and Walmart, among others, according to Chiu.

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"We must remember that some of the most profitable companies in the world engineered this public health crisis," Chiu said. "Our litigation has yielded over $350 million in cash payments, fees and benefits to address the opioid crisis ruining the city."

According to Chiu's office, opioid-related overdose deaths in San Francisco jumped nearly 500% between 2014 and 2020, prompting the city to file lawsuits including the complaint against Walgreens.

In August, Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled against the pharmaceutical giant, saying "Walgreens' San Francisco pharmacies received over 1,200,000 'red flag' opioid prescriptions."

"The evidence showed that Walgreens did not provide its pharmacists with sufficient time, staffing or resources to perform due diligence on these prescriptions," the judge wrote.

In a statement Wednesday, Walgreens disputed its liability and said "there is no admission of fault in the settlement agreement," Fraser Engerman, Walgreens' senior director for external relations, said in a statement.

"We never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to 'pill mills' and 'Internet pharmacies."

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