Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. has agreed to pay San Francisco nearly $230 million to settle a lawsuit for its role in the city’s opioid crisis, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said in a press release Wednesday.
The pharmacy giant will pay $229.6 million to the city over the next 14 years, Chiu said in a press release, with the majority of this payment coming in the first eight years.
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The settlement came nine months after U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco said the drugstore chain could be held liable for having “substantially contributed” to an opioid epidemic that caused “widespread harm” in the city and constituted a public nuisance.
Breyer faulted Walgreens for its “15-year failure” to properly scrutinize opioid prescriptions and flag possible misuse of the sometimes highly addictive drugs.
At a press conference, Chiu called Walgreens’ settlement the largest awarded to a local government in years of opioid litigation nationwide.
“Opioids have wreaked havoc across our nation leading to immense suffering and untold damage,” said Chiu. “Cities like San Francisco have shouldered much of the burden of the opioid epidemic.”
He said Walgreens’ actions “made the opioid epidemic in San Francisco worse than it otherwise would have been,” and that there is “no amount of money that will bring back the lives we have lost.”
In a statement, Walgreens said it “disputes liability” and did not admit fault, but that settling allows it to focus on patients, customers and communities. “Our thoughts are with those impacted by this tragic crisis,” it added.
In his ruling in Aug. 2022, Breyer found that Walgreens suffered from a profit-driven “fill, fill, fill” culture in dispensing opioids.
Breyer ruled that Walgreens’ San Francisco pharmacies received more than 1.2 million opioid prescriptions with “red flags” from 2006 to 2020, yet only performed due diligence on less than 5% before dispensing them to residents.
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Walgreens’ settlement averts a trial to determine damages.
San Francisco had estimated it might cost $8.1 billion to abate the opioid crisis, and that Walgreens was legally liable for the entire amount.
Last May, Walgreens reached a $683 million opioid settlement with Florida, paying more than three-quarters of the $878 million that four other companies, including rival CVS Health Corp, agreed to pay in similar, earlier settlements.
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More than 600,000 people have died from drug overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2021, including more than 107,000 in 2021 alone, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reuters contributed to this report.