Walgreens to pay San Francisco nearly $230 million to settle case involving opioid distribution by drugstore chain, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced Wednesday.
The city will receive $229 million over the next 14 years, with most of the funds coming in the first eight years, Chiu’s office said. The settlement is the largest amount a city has received from a single company in opioid litigation, according to Chiu, but it falls well short of the $8.1 billion San Francisco is seeking.
“Cities like San Francisco have shouldered much of the burden of the opioid epidemic,” Chiu said in a statement. The “historic deal ensures that Walgreens is held accountable for the crisis it fueled and that our city receives adequate resources to combat the opioid crisis and bring relief to our communities.”
San Francisco in 2018 sued Walgreens, Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers and distributors over their roles in the opioid epidemic. In 2022, a judge found outto the city’s opioid epidemic, writing, “Evidence showed that Walgreens did not provide its pharmacists with sufficient time, staff or resources to perform due diligence on these prescriptions.”
“Walgreens disputes liability and there is no admission of guilt in the settlement agreement,” Fraser Engerman, Walgreens Senior Director of Exteriors Relations, he said in a statement. “We have never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor have we distributed them to ‘pills’ and online pharmacies.”
Between 2014 and 2020, opioid-related overdose deaths in the city increased nearly 500%, Chiu’s office said.
A quarter of emergency room visits at the city’s Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center are currently drug-related, about 30 cases a day, according to Dr. Christopher Colwell, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine. Colwell testified in federal court on behalf of the city, noting that patients with drug-related emergencies come from all walks of life.
The city attorney had previously received settlements from manufacturers Endo, Allergan, Teva, Johnson & Johnson; CVS and Walmart pharmacy chains; and distributors McKesson, Cardinal and AmerisourceBergen.
“While this may seem like a substantial amount, the settlement amount of (nearly) $230 million pales in comparison to the profits earned and the costs imposed on the city and its residents by what the judge described as a ’15 years’ to properly monitor and review opioid prescriptions. Walgreen is walking away from this still-controversial accountability and with no promise that it will fundamentally change the way it dispenses drugs to put patients before profits,” according to the law professor at the US ‘University of Maryland Lisa Vertinsky, analyzing large class action settlements.
The San Francisco opioid settlement is one of 3,300 cases that have awarded states, counties or cities more than $54 billion to date, according to Seattle’s Opioid Settlement Tracker, which compared these opioid cases to the $ $246 billion that major tobacco companies agreed to pay after 46 states sued them in the 1990s.
“Localities’ success in opioid litigation provides a stark contrast to their virtual non-participation in big tobacco litigation,” according to Christine Minhee, founder of OpioidSettlementTracker.com. “And overall, the states and localities that choose to stay in litigation… end up having more funds for their abatement cases than most jurisdictions that opt for the safety and certainty of national settlement agreements.” This has exciting potential for public health, because localities are often better suited to invest in harm reduction models that actually save lives but may go unnoticed by state legislators.”
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