(Reuters) – Pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance and other defendants on Tuesday said they were not to blame for the opioid crisis in San Francisco, and that they acted responsibly when providing legal medications to patients in pain.
“Almost all of those prescriptions were written by good, well-meaning doctors,” Walgreens attorney Kate Swift said during opening statements in a trial in San Francisco federal court. “It was appropriate for good pharmacists to fill those prescriptions.”
The trial, which kicked off Monday, is the first to target drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies over the addictive pain medicines.
San Francisco has accused Walgreens, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, AbbVie Inc’s Allergan unit, and drug distributor Anda Inc, which is owned by Teva, of creating a “public nuisance” by flooding the city with prescription opioids and failing to prevent the drugs from being diverted for illegal use.
A lawyer for San Francisco said during opening statements on Monday that the entire prescription drug industry was to blame for recklessly expanding the market for opioid drugs.
San Francisco has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, which has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths nationwide in the past two decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid-related health issues now account for 25% of emergency room visits at the city’s largest public hospital, according to the lawsuit.
Drugmakers Teva and Allergan said on Tuesday that they were minor players in the crisis compared to companies like Purdue Pharma and the wealthy Sackler family that owns the now bankrupt company.
“This crisis traces back to Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family and their pursuit of profits,” said Collie James, an attorney for Teva and its affiliates.
By comparison, Teva’s branded opioid drugs Actiq and Fentora, made by its Cephalon unit, were “a barely perceptible blip on the opioid market in San Francisco,” James said.
Allergan attorney Hariklia Karis made similar arguments about Allergan’s branded opioids, Kadian and Norco.
“Kadian made no difference in this market,” Karis said. “Norco did not move the market.”
The members of the Sackler family that own Purdue have said that they acted lawfully, but “regret” that its widely-prescribed OxyContin “unexpectedly became part of an opioid crisis.”
San Francisco’s lawsuit, filed in 2018, initially included claims against drugmakers Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson and Endo International Plc, and the three largest U.S. drug distributors – McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp. The city previously settled with those defendants ahead of the trial.
The lawsuit was one of more than 3,000 cases filed by state and local governments over the U.S. opioid crisis.
J&J and the three large distributors agreed to a $26 billion nationwide settlement of opioid claims against them, which California and San Francisco joined. But many of the lawsuits are proceeding against other drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies.
(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Bill Berkrot)