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Trial for Florida's opioid lawsuit against Walgreens begins in Pasco

Carl Lisciandrello
WUSF Public Media
While other pharmacies like CVS settled with the state in the opioid case, Walgreens is going to defend itself in trial.

The state says Walgreens ignored red flags and filled millions of suspicious opioid prescriptions. Walgreens says drugmakers misled pharmacies about the 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.

RELATED: A jury has been seated as Walgreens goes to trial in Pasco opioids case

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 months.

Read more from the Associated Press report.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.