Drugmakers, Walgreens ask judge to rule in their favor in S.F. opioid trial

People walk by a Walgreens, owned by the Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., in Manhattan, New York City
People walk by a Walgreens, owned by the Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

June 10 (Reuters) - Drugmakers and Walgreens Boots Alliance have asked a federal judge to rule in their favor in a case brought by San Francisco accusing them of fueling an epidemic of opioid addiction.

In a series of motions filed in San Francisco federal court on Thursday, AbbVie Inc's Allergan, multiple affiliates of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and Walgreens all said that the city and county of San Francisco had failed to prove their claims when they rested their case earlier this month.

Walgreens said in its motion that the sole claim against it, which accuses it of creating a public nuisance by failing to stop opioid drugs from being diverted to illegal channels, must fail because the city had not shown that it dispensed any drugs without prescriptions. As long as it was only filling prescriptions, the company said, it could not be liable "no matter the volume (of drugs) or adverse downstream consequences."

Israel-based Teva argued that it could not be liable because San Francisco had not proven it was responsible for the conduct of its U.S.-based corporate affiliates named as defendants in the case. Those entities, including Actavis Pharma and Cephalon Inc, argued in separate motions that the plaintiffs had failed to show that they did not adequately monitor suspicious orders.

The San Francisco city attorney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The city has argued in the case that the drugmakers were liable because they misleadingly downplayed opioids' risks in their marketing, and that Walgreens ignored evidence of illegal diversion.

The trial, which began in April, is one of thousands of cases brought by local governments around the country.

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.

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.

Purdue is in bankruptcy, and the city previously settled with the other defendants ahead of the trial. The settlements with J&J and the distributors were part of a $26 billion nationwide settlement.

The case is City and County of San Francisco v. Purdue Pharma LP, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:18-cv-07591.

For San Francisco: Jennie Lee Anderson of Andrus Anderson; Aelish Baig of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd; Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein

For AbbVie: Hariklia Karis of Kirkland & Ellis

For Teva defendants: Collie James of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

For Anda: James Matthews of Foley & Lardner

For Walgreens: Kate Swift of Bartlit Beck

Read more:

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Walgreens, drugmakers lose bid to limit evidence ahead of S.F. opioid trial

Walgreens, drugmakers blame others for San Francisco's opioid crisis

Walgreens, Teva accused of fueling opioid addiction in quest for new markets

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.