Walgreens has been found to have caused a public nuisance by distributing opioids in a way that created severe narcotics abuse issues in San Francisco. Judge Charles R. Breyer stated in a 112-page opinion on August 10 that Walgreens had breached the regulatory obligations that it owed in exchange for the ability to sell and distribute opioids.

According to Law360, Walgreens is the sole remaining defendant in the lawsuit filed by the City and County of San Francisco after the other named defendants settled. The initial case filed by San Francisco argued that the defendants’ failures to perform due diligence in filling opioid prescriptions led to a sharp increase in controlled opioids abused and sold illegally, creating a public nuisance. 

In his opinion, Judge Breyer wrote, “the evidence presented at trial supports a reasonable inference that from 2006 to 2020, Walgreens pharmacies in San Francisco filled a significant volume of illegitimate opioid prescriptions that caused more than negligible or theoretical harm in the city.” An example of Walgreens’ negligent behavior in filling opioid prescriptions is the story of Collin Leong.

According to the opinion, Leong surrendered his medical license in 2014 after a criminal complaint was filed against him, charging him with running an illegal opioid racket. The way the fraud worked was that Leong would write an illegitimate opioid prescription for a homeless individual who would fill the prescription and turn the medication over to Leong’s co-conspirator. 

In Judge Breyer’s opinion, he noted that Walgreens in San Francisco filled nearly 2,200 of Leong’s illegitimate prescriptions despite 79% of them containing red flags in violation of Walgreens’ drug policy. While Walgreens did issue an informal ban on filling any more of Leong’s prescriptions due to suspicious prescribing practices, “the majority continued to fill them.”

Now that Judge Breyer has issued the judgment against Walgreens, San Francisco could potentially seek billions of dollars in public nuisance damages. A future trial has been declared to determine how much Walgreens owes the county.

Walgreens has announced that it is “disappointed” with the judge’s decision and its intent to appeal the judgment against it.