(Reuters) – Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. has delivered billions of opioid pills to drug addicts and criminals, contributing to an addiction epidemic in Florida, a state attorney general said Monday as a civilian lawsuit against the pharmacy chain began.
Walgreens completed one of four opioid prescriptions in Florida between 1999 and 2020 and failed to investigate red flags that could have prevented drugs being diverted for illegal use, state attorney Jim Webster told jurors.
“Walgreens was the last line of defense to prevent the misuse of opioids,” Webster said. “It was the unit that actually put the opioids in the hands of people who were addicted to opioids and the hands of criminals.”;
The company has denied the allegations and says it filled prescriptions written by doctors.
Walgreens is the last remaining defendant in the trial taking place before Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd in Pasco County Circuit Court, after the state reached $ 878 million in settlements with four others.
Pharmacy chain competitor CVS Health Corp agreed to pay $ 484 million, while pharmaceutical manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. will pay $ 194.8 million, Abbvie Inc.’s Allergan unit will pay $ 134.2 million and Endo International PLC will pay $ 65 million.
Walgreens has claimed that it was immune from being sued based on a $ 3,000 deal it reached with Florida in 2012, following an investigation into its record-keeping policy and efforts to prevent opioid drug diversion.
The company has said that Florida was bound by that agreement even though it now regretted the terms as a “bad bargain”.
Florida has called Walgreen’s position “absurd” and said the deal dealt with only one record breach.
Florida has raised more than $ 3 billion in opioid lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, according to Attorney General Ashley Moody. Most will be spent on efforts to alleviate the opioid crisis in the state.
The nationwide opioid crisis has affected more than 500,000 U.S. deaths from overdoses over the past two decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.