Walgreens & the opioid crisis

August 11, 2022
Walgreens logo displayed on phone

Walgreens has regulatory obligations to take reasonable steps to prevent the drugs from being diverted and harming the public. The evidence at trial established that Walgreens breached these obligations.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in an opinion ruling that Walgreens will be held responsible for overprescribing opioids in San Francisco.
  • Why It Matters: The opioid crisis is related to more than 500,000 deaths throughout the past 20 years. The San Francisco v. Walgreens trial has been one of the largest attempts yet at opioid-related compensation; a further trial will occur to determine the exact dollar amount Walgreens must pay the city. The question remains whether this case sets precedent for others in different metropolitan areas/states, several of which are in the midst of lawsuits against Walgreens and other pharmacies for similar reasons.
  • Background: A public health emergency was declared in 2017 regarding the opioid crisis, defined as an "increased prescription of opioid medications" in the 1990s and 2000s that "led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive" (U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services).
  • Over 3,000 lawsuits have already been filed by "state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and other entities" against drug companies and pharmacies, accusing them of fueling the opioid crisis without providing proper oversight or reporting suspicious orders.
  • Regarding the accusations, Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman said, “We never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis." San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu, however, said that “pharmacists were pressured to fill, fill, fill and as a result, Walgreens filled our streets with opioids.”

Judge says Walgreens contributed to San Francisco’s opioid crisis (PBS)

Walgreens helped fuel San Francisco’s opioid crisis, judge rules (Washington Post)

Tennessee sues Walgreens pharmacy chain over opioid distribution (Reuters)

by Jenna Lee,

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