California Court Finds Walgreens Contributed to Opioid Epidemic

An opinion was issued in the Northern District of California on Wednesday in a suit filed by the City and County of San Francisco against defendant Walgreens Co. The opinion ruled that Walgreens was responsible for contributing to the public nuisance caused in San Francisco by the opioid epidemic.

The opioid epidemic had plagued both the country and San Francisco for years, according to court filings. The plaintiff specifically explains that widespread opioid use in San Francisco has created a strain on the city’s hospitals, has exacerbated crime, and has increased homelessness. The City and County of San Francisco claims that Walgreens “has contributed to the opioid epidemic that has engulfed the country.”

The plaintiff brought a variety of charges against a multitude of defendants, but only one public nuisance claim against Walgreens. The court sought to determine whether there was enough evidence to show that Walgreens knowingly engaged in the alleged misconduct and that the misconduct could be attributed to the epidemic in San Francisco.

The City and County of San Francisco argued that “between 2006 and 2020, Walgreens distributed and dispensed over one hundred million prescription opioid pills in the city [San Francisco].” They also cited the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which seeks to impose duties on providers like Walgreens by obligating them to “take reasonable steps to prevent the drugs from being diverted and harming the public.”

The court, in an opinion titled Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law Regarding Walgreens, concluded that the pharmacy chain breached its duties under the CSA by not maintaining a system that would identify suspicious orders of opioids, asserting that the plaintiff “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.”

A future court date will determine how Walgreens will address the role they played in the misconduct.

The plaintiff was represented by Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt and Penfield, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, Sanford Heisler Sharp, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Andrus Anderson, Renne Public Law Group, Bleichmar Fonti & Auld, Weitz & Luxenberg, Keller Rohrback, Powell & Majestro, Motley Rice, Blood Hurst & O’Reardon, Simmons Hanly Conroy, Levin Law Firm, and Skikos Crawford Skikos Joseph & Millican.

The defendant was represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Hilgers Graben, Bartlit Beck, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Foley & Lardner, Kirkland & Ellis, Hueston Hennigan, and Winston & Strawn.