(Reuters) – Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc supplied billions of opioid pills to drug addicts and criminals, contributing to an addiction epidemic in Florida, a lawyer for the state said on Monday as a civil trial against the pharmacy chain got underway.

Walgreens filled one in four opioid prescriptions in Florida between 1999 and 2020, and failed to investigate red flags that could have prevented drugs from being diverted for illegal use, the state’s lawyer Jim Webster said as jurors heard opening statements in the trial held in New Port Richey.

“Walgreens was the last line of defense in preventing improper distribution of opioids,” Webster added. “It was the entity that actually put the opioids in the hands of people addicted to opioids and the hands of criminals.”

Walgreens, which has denied the allegations, is the final remaining defendant in the trial taking place before Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd in Pasco County Circuit Court.

Florida previously reached $ 878 million in settlements with CVS Health Corp, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Abbvie Inc’s Allergan unit and Endo International Plc.

Steven Derringer, Walgreen’s attorney, said in his opening statement that the pharmacy chain filled prescriptions from doctors and did not ignore red flags in an effort to flood Florida with opioids.

“There are so many pills because doctors have written so many prescriptions for pain medicine,” Derringer said.

Florida has spent more than $ 14 billion to address the opioid crisis in the state, and opioid overdoses have caused nearly 40,000 deaths from 1999 to 2020, Webster told jurors.

Webster said that Walgreens deserves a “huge chunk of the blame” for overdose deaths and the state’s increased spending.

Derringer countered that others should be blamed for the state’s opioid epidemic including drug manufacturers who lied to pharmacies about addiction risk, US Food and Drug Administration officials who approved the sale of opioids for chronic pain and doctors who wrote unnecessary prescriptions.

Florida has collected more than $ 3 billion in opioid litigation against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies, according to Attorney General Ashley Moody. Most will be spent on efforts to mitigate the opioid crisis in the state.

In March, CVS Health Corp agreed to pay Florida $ 484 million. Teva will pay $ 194.8 million, Allergan will pay $ 134.2 million and Endo will pay $ 65 million.

The nationwide opioid crisis has caused more than 500,000 US deaths from overdoses in the past two decades, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.


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