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Attorneys deliver opening statements in Florida's opioid case against Walgreens

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Pasco trial is expected to last a couple of months. The state says Walgreens ignored red flags and filled millions of suspicious prescriptions. Walgreens says drugmakers misled pharmacies about risks.

A trial is underway in Florida's opioid epidemic lawsuit against Walgreens.

State officials accuse the pharmacy chain of prioritizing profits over health by improperly dispensing millions of powerful painkillers that caused tens of thousands of deaths.

The trial began Monday in Pasco County. The state filed the case there, in part, because attorneys say the pharmacy dispensed 2.2 million doses of oxycodone in Hudson, a town of only about 12,000 residents.

The Florida Attorney General's office says Walgreens should have been "the last line of defense" to stop addictive drugs from getting into the wrong hands, but says that was not the case.

The state's case hinges on accusations that Walgreens dispensed more than 4.3 billion total opioid pills in Florida from May 2006 to June 2021 though more than half contained one or more easily recognized red flags for abuse, fraud and addiction.

"In most of those cases Walgreens did nothing, did no investigation whatsoever of these red flags. Just handed out the pills as powerful as heroin to somebody who brought in a suspicious prescription ... and the whole time people were dying," said Florida Assistant Attorney General Jim Webster in his opening statement

Walgreens has denied the state's claims. Defense attorney Steve Derringer argued that opioid makers such as Purdue Pharma are to blame for the crisis because they misled pharmacies and other providers about the harms these drugs could cause.

“Walgreens had nothing to do with any of that,” Derringer said in his opening statement. “They (drugmakers) caused this epidemic by misrepresenting the risks and benefits to pharmacies.”

Derringer also criticized the state's response to the opioid epidemic over the years, particularly when it came to "pill mills." These health facilities routinely prescribed unnecessary prescriptions for controlled substances and were often unregulated. The state eventually cracked down on them.

Walgreens' trial comes after CVS and other pharmaceutical companies settled with the state in the opioid lawsuit, agreeing to pay a combined total of more than $870 million.

The trial could go on for a couple of months.

Read more from the Associated Press report.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.