Walgreens filled one in four opioid prescriptions in Florida between 1999 and 2020, and failed to investigate red flags that could have prevented drugs from being diverted for illegal use, the state’s lawyer Jim Webster said as jurors heard opening statements in the trial held in New Port Richey.
“Walgreens was the last line of defense in preventing improper distribution of opioids,” Webster said. “It was the entity that actually put the opioids in the hands of people addicted to opioids and the hands of criminals.”
Walgreens, which has denied the allegations, is the final remaining defendant in the trial taking place before Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd in Pasco County Circuit Court.
Florida previously reached $878 million in settlements with CVS Health Corp, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Abbvie Inc’s Allergan unit and Endo International Plc.
Steven Derringer, Walgreen’s attorney, said in his opening statement that the pharmacy chain filled prescriptions from doctors and did not ignore red flags that allowed opioids to flood Florida.
“There are so many pills because doctors have written so many prescriptions for pain medicine,” Derringer said.
Florida has spent more than $14 billion to address the opioid crisis in the state, and opioid overdoses have caused nearly 40,000 deaths from 1999 to 2020, Webster told jurors.
Walgreens deserves a “huge chunk of the blame” for overdose deaths and the state’s increased spending, Webster said.
Derringer countered that others should be blamed for the state’s opioid epidemic including drug manufacturers who lied to pharmacies about addiction risk, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials who approved the sale of opioids for chronic pain and doctors who wrote unnecessary prescriptions.
Florida has collected more than $3 billion in opioid litigation against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies, according to Attorney General Ashley Moody. Most will be spent on efforts to mitigate the opioid crisis in the state.
In March, Walgreens rival CVS Health Corp agreed to pay Florida $484 million. Drugmakers Teva will pay $194.8 million, Allergan will pay $134.2 million and Endo will pay $65 million.
Walgreens previously argued it was immune from being sued based on a mere $3,000 settlement it reached with Florida in 2012, following an investigation into its record-keeping policies and efforts to prevent the diversion of opioid drugs.
Byrd ruled in March that the 2012 settlement addressed only a single record-keeping violation and did not protect Walgreens from other claims. The company has appealed her ruling.
While a large portion of the more than 500,000 U.S. deaths from overdoses in the past two decades were caused by the powerful opioid fentanyl and other illicit drugs, overuse of prescription pain medicines put countless Americans on the path to addiction.
(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder)