San Francisco announced Wednesday that it had reached a $230 million settlement with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. over its role in the city’s opioid epidemic.
The settlement came nine months after US District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco said the drugstore chain could be held liable for contributing “significantly” to an opioid epidemic that caused “major damage” in the city and constitute a public nuisance.
Breyer accused Walgreens of a “15-year failure” to properly screen opioid prescriptions and report possible abuse of the sometimes highly addictive drugs.
At a news conference, San Francisco Attorney David Chiu called the Walgreens settlement the largest settlement awarded to a local government in years of nationwide opioid litigation.
He said that Walgreens’ actions “would have made San Francisco’s opioid epidemic 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 “denies liability” and admits no fault, but that the settlement allows it to focus on patients, customers and communities. “Our thoughts are with those affected by this tragic crisis,” it said.
The Deerfield, Illinois-based company was the sole remaining defendant in the San Francisco civil lawsuit after several drug manufacturers and distributors reached settlements valued at more than $120 million.
In its August 10 verdict last year, following a trial without a jury, Breyer found that Walgreens suffered from a for-profit “fill, fill, fill” culture in its opioid distribution.
Breyer found that from 2006 to 2020, Walgreens pharmacies in San Francisco received more than 1.2 million “red flag” opioid prescriptions, but underwent due diligence on less than 5% prior to dispensing .
Walgreens settlement prevents litigation to determine damages.
San Francisco had estimated that containing the opioid crisis could cost $8.1 billion and that Walgreens was liable for the entire amount.
Last May, Walgreens agreed a $683 million opioid settlement with Florida, paying more than three-quarters of the $878 million paid by four other companies, including rival CVS Health Corp, in similar previous settlements were willing to pay.
Opioids include legal pain relievers such as OxyContin and various forms of the drug fentanyl.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2021, with more than 107,000 in 2021 alone.
Walgreens shares ended Wednesday’s trading on the Nasdaq up 69 cents at $32.04.