Walgreens contributed to San Francisco opioid crisis: judge

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A federal judge ruled this week that Walgreens can be held responsible for contributing to San Francisco's opioid crisis.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer on Wednesday upheld a city attorney's claim that the pharmacy chain had not exercised proper oversight with prescriptions, including over-dispensing addictive substances and failing to report suspicious orders. 

“Walgreens pharmacies in San Francisco dispensed hundreds of thousands of red flag opioid prescriptions without performing adequate due diligence,” the judge wrote. “Tens of thousands of these prescriptions were written by doctors with suspect prescribing patterns.”

“The evidence showed that Walgreens did not provide its pharmacists with sufficient time, staffing, or resources to perform due diligence on these prescriptions,” Breyer added.

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A Walgreens in San Francisco. (Google Maps)

A Walgreens in San Francisco. (Google Maps)
(Google Maps)

The judge noted that the influx of red-flag opioid prescriptions led to San Francisco hospitals being overwhelmed, children's playgrounds being littered with drugs and even city libraries being forced to close due to syrine-clogged toilets.  

Walgreens released a statement denying the city's claim. 

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“We never manufactured or marketed opioids, nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis,” Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said.

Homeless people consume illegal drugs in an encampment along Willow St. in the Tenderloin district of downtown on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in San Francisco, CA.

Homeless people consume illegal drugs in an encampment along Willow St. in the Tenderloin district of downtown on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in San Francisco, CA.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Engerman also claimed that ruling was an “unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law” and called the attempt “misguided and unsustainable.”

A ruling on monetary damages has yet to be determined. 

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The Golden Gate city has been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis. According to the city's health department, 474 people died in San Francisco last year from fentanyl-related overdoses.

Last week, San Francisco's new district attorney announced that she would revoke former DA Chesa Boudin's policy of offering lenient plea deals for drug offenders.

People sleep near discarded clothing and used needles on a street in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco, on July 25, 2019. 

People sleep near discarded clothing and used needles on a street in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco, on July 25, 2019. 
(AP)

The new policy prevents serious offenders from being referred to San Francisco's community justice court (CJC). The CJC is a “progressive reform” program that addresses “the primary issues facing the individual and not just their crime,” according to the Superior Court of San Francisco.

Under DA Brooke Jenkins' new policy, dealers arrested with an excess of five grams of drugs can no longer be referred to CJC. 

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“The previous administration’s policy had no weight limit threshold, was not adhering to CJC guidelines, and allowed drug dealers, arrested with as much as 500 grams of fentanyl, and who had multiple open fentanyl cases, to be referred to CJC,” according to Jenkins' office. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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