Legal community and San Francisco officials react to win in landmark opioid trial against Walgreens

Federal judge finds Walgreens liable for substantially contributing to the opioid crisis in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (August 10, 2022) — Attorneys, San Francisco officials, and public health practitioners sent the following statements after San Francisco acting on behalf of the People of the State of California won its landmark opioid trial against Walgreens pharmacy. Judge Charles R. Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found Walgreens is liable for substantially contributing to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco.

City Attorney David Chiu speaks at a press conference at San Francisco City Hall

The Court found Walgreens over-dispensed opioids without proper due diligence and failed to identify, report, and halt suspicious orders as required by law. This is the first bench trial to decide in plaintiff’s favor in the national opioid litigation and the first bench trial to find Walgreens liable.

This trial is the fourth bellwether case in the federal opioid litigation proceeding involving more than 3,000 American cities, towns, and counties, bringing opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy chains to court for fueling the opioid epidemic. This case will serve as a test trial to help reach resolutions and seek accountability for the destruction the opioid industry caused nationwide.

The corporate practices of Walgreens fueled a widespread surge of opioid-related addiction and overdose in San Francisco, thereby creating an ongoing public nuisance in the region. From 2006 to 2014, San Francisco County saw 163,645,704 opioids distributed, enough for 22 pills per person per year. Between 2015 and 2020, San Francisco saw a 478% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths, and in a typical day at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) Emergency Department, approximately 25 percent of visits are opioid-related.

The next stage of trial will determine the amount Walgreens must pay San Francisco to abate the nuisance they caused. San Francisco policymakers and public health officials applauded the Court’s decision and welcomed the new resources San Francisco would receive after the next phase of trial.

“This decision gives voice to the thousands of lives lost to the opioid epidemic,” said San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu. “This crisis did not come out of nowhere. It was created by the opioid industry, and local jurisdictions like San Francisco have had to shoulder the burden for far too long. We are grateful the Court heard our arguments and held Walgreens responsible for the damage they caused.”

“For far too long, families in San Francisco and across our nation have suffered from losing loved ones to the opioid epidemic,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “The street crisis we are dealing with in our City is largely fueled by the ease of access to fatal and harmful drugs. Today’s momentous decision will help further San Francisco’s efforts to prevent overdoses and save lives of those struggling with addiction.”

“We have seen the devastating impacts of opioid addiction in our most vulnerable communities and this decision is an important step forward in our efforts to save lives,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “San Francisco is committed to reducing harm associated with drug use, reversing overdoses, and connecting people to the care they need. This case will provide more resources to continue our work with partners to ensure that our efforts to prevent overdose deaths and address substance use disorders are successful.”

“We are at a critical moment of the decades-long opioid crisis in which we must be innovative and undaunted in our efforts to protect the health of San Franciscans,” said Dr. Phillip O. Coffin, Director of Substance Use Research for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “This victory will provide some much-needed resources to respond to the tragedy wrought by opioid marketing.”

“This is great news for our City and for San Francisco Public Library. Every day we see the tragic effects of the opioid crisis in our community,” said San Francisco City Librarian Michael Lambert. “We hope that this victory will translate into additional and lasting support for individuals suffering from addiction and improve conditions in neighborhoods that have been disproportionately burdened by this epidemic.”

“Once again the City Attorney and his team have come through for San Franciscans,” said San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. “The opioid crisis has been a national tragedy, but few places have felt that tragedy as acutely as San Francisco, where hundreds die every year of overdose and thousands more struggle with the daily challenges of addiction to fentanyl and other opiates. This judgment against Walgreens helps ensure at least some measure of justice for the harm done by drug distributors to this city and its people.”

“I’m incredibly grateful to City Attorney David Chiu and the outstanding lawyers in of his affirmative litigation team,” said San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey. “As a member of the recovery community myself and a believer in the role local government can play to help those with substance use disorder, this legal victory and the financial recovery to come will help San Francisco make real progress in fighting to reverse the trend in opioid-related deaths. My congratulations to my former colleagues at the City Attorney’s Office for a high-impact victory on an issue so important to San Francisco.”

San Francisco had the assistance of outside counsel as well as the Yale Law School’s San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project.

“It’s really exciting to witness this outcome after having been involved in the early trial stages of the case,” said Yale Law School Graduate Delaram Takyar. “The attorneys we worked with were incredibly creative and hard working. It’s inspiring to see that they were able to secure such an unprecedented victory against Walgreens, in recognition of the extent to which the company’s practices contributed to the opioid epidemic in San Francisco and beyond.”

The case is City and County of San Francisco, et al., v. Purdue Pharma L.P., et al., Case No. 3:18-cv-07591-CRB. The decision can be found here.