Editor's update: Parties reached a $683 million settlement in the case.
New Port Richey, FL— A Florida jury previewed evidence concerning whether Walgreens bears responsibility for the devastating impact opioids have had in the state, as trial opened Monday against the pharmacy chain. State of Florida v. Walgreens, 2018-CA-001438.
The Florida Attorney General's Office claims Walgreens, with roughly 900 pharmacies in the state, played a key role in fueling the opioid epidemic for decades by improperly filling prescriptions that should have been denied.
During Monday’s openings, Assistant State Attorney General Jim Webster told jurors that in a 15-year period, from 2006 to 2021, Walgreens received millions of opioid prescriptions bearing “red flags,” or signs the dispensed pills would be used by addicts, sold illegally, or otherwise used improperly.
But Webster said Walgreens pharmacists failed to properly investigate and resolve nearly 90 percent of those red flag prescriptions.
He added that failure contributed to an abuse epidemic that has killed more than 39,000 people in Florida and has cost the state $14 billion in opioid-related crime, drug treatment, medical care, and other expenses.
“The evidence will show that Walgreens ignored its duty, its duty to investigate suspicious prescriptions for decades,” Webster said. “Even though during that whole time people were dying every day.”
But Walgreens argues it, like physicians and others, was initially misled by opioid manufacturers as to the dangers of the drug, and it later worked diligently to quell the flood of illicit opioid use.
On Monday, Bartlit Beck’s Steve Derringer walked jurors through evidence he said showed Walgreens met with Drug Enforcement Agency representatives and others on how to help quash illegal opioid distribution, and instituted dispensing policies that went beyond the state’s standard of practice in the area.
"We at Walgreens were allies of law enforcement,” Derringer said. “We were their partners.”
Walgreens remains the only defendant in a case that had included fellow pharmacy giant CVS, along with opioid manufacturers Teva Pharmaceutical, Allergan, and Endo International. Those companies reached pre-trial settlements with the state totaling more than $878 million.
The Florida case is among a wave of claims brought by the nation's attorneys general against opioid manufacturers, pharmacies, and others over the impact of the highly addictive drugs. In West Virginia, a bench trial is underway against Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen, along with Teva and Allergan, with CVN livestreaming proceedings.
CVN is streaming the Florida trial gavel-to-gavel, live and on demand, and will provide ongoing coverage via its news page.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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