Could Walgreens be responsible for the very crime and drug issues that they say are driving them out of San Francisco? A lawsuit from the city begs that question, and blames opioid overprescription.

Unless you’ve been living under the Maybelline aisle, you are well aware that San Francisco and the retail and pharmacy chain Walgreens have a very contentious relationship. Walgreens blames San Francisco shoplifting for their numerous store closures here in recent years. Mayor Breed has shot back, saying “they’re saturated — SF has a lot of Walgreens locations all over the city — so I do think that there are other factors that come into play.”

Either way, viral videos of Walgreens mayhem here in SF continue to be catnip for right-wing media. The epidemic of fentanyl and opioid overdoses also tarnishes our image, along with creating incalculable human suffering.  

But could the shoplifting and the drug abuse be connected? Oh sure, people hooked on drugs are more likely to steal. But could the pharmacy chain that suffers from shoplifting be indirectly responsible for the magnitude of drug addiction? That’s what a city of San Francisco lawsuit against Walgreens says, and Courthouse News reports that federal judge Charles Breyer rejected Walgreens’ request to dismiss the lawsuit. The federal trial will begin on April 25.

“Drug manufacturers’ deceptive marketing and sale of opioids to treat chronic pain is one of the main drivers of the opioid epidemic,” the lawsuit states. “The Marketing Defendants’ intention was to normalize aggressive prescribing of opioids for various kinds of pain by downplaying the very real risks of opioids, especially the risk of addiction, and by exaggerating the benefits of use. To accomplish this goal, they intentionally misled doctors and patients about the appropriate uses, risks, safety and efficacy of prescription opioids.”

The suit was originally filed in 2018, and with a long list of defendants. Some of those defendants are no longer defendants; they either went bankrupt from so many opioid lawsuits (Purdue Pharma), or paid billions in opioid and Oxycontin settlements (the Sackler family) on condition that they not be nailed by any future lawsuits.

So in this lawsuit from San Francisco, the only remaining defendants are Walgreens, and drug manufacturers Actavis, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Endo Pharmaceuticals. San Francisco had also sought racketeering charges against Walgreens and the drug companies, which Judge Breyer dismissed. But he is letting the city go to trial on charges that Walgreens created a “public nuisance” when they “failed to design and operate effective systems to identify suspicious orders of opioids and to prevent diversion of opioids.”

So new SF City Attorney David Chiu inherits the Walgreens trial, slated to start in ten days. His spokesperson Jen Kwart said in a statement to Courthouse News that “With the exception of a few minor issues, Judge Breyer dismissed the vast majority of the defendants motions yesterday, allowing us to move forward with our trial to ensure opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies are held accountable for the crisis they created.”

“The crisis they created.” Strong words, but is the city just madly deflecting responsibility for its own long-standing problems, or does this suit really have a chance?

Oh, it absolutely has a chance. Walgreens is fending off opioid lawsuits all over the country. In Cleveland last November, a jury found Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS guilty of the very same “public nuisance” charges for opioid overprescription. Right now in Miami, the state of Florida is suing Walgreens for distributing too many opioids.

So when you see another Walgreens is closing in San Francisco, maybe it’s not because of shoplifting. And maybe it’s not because they’re oversaturated. Maybe it’s because they’re saving up for some impending possible legal settlements.  

Related: Walgreens to Pay $7.5 Million to Two Bay Area Counties Over Phony Pharmacist [SFist]

Image: Nicholas G. via Yelp