© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: 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

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) -San Francisco said on Wednesday it reached a $230 million settlement with Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:) Inc over its role in the city’s opioid epidemic.

The settlement came nine months after U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco said the drugstore chain could be held liable for having “substantially contributed” to an opioid epidemic that caused “widespread harm” in the city and constituted a public nuisance.

Breyer faulted Walgreens for its “15-year failure” to properly scrutinize opioid prescriptions and flag possible misuse of the sometimes highly addictive drugs.

At a press conference, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu called Walgreens’ settlement the largest awarded to a local government in years of opioid litigation nationwide.

He said Walgreens’ actions “made the opioid epidemic in San Francisco worse than it otherwise would have been,” and that there is “no amount of money that will bring back the lives we have lost.”

In a statement, Walgreens said it “disputes liability” and did not admit fault, but that settling allows it to focus on patients, customers and communities. “Our thoughts are with those impacted by this tragic crisis,” it added.

The Deerfield, Illinois-based company had been the only remaining defendant in San Francisco’s civil lawsuit, after several drugmakers and distributors reached settlements worth more than $120 million.

In his ruling last Aug. 10, following a non-jury trial, Breyer found that Walgreens suffered from a profit-driven “fill, fill, fill” culture in dispensing opioids.

Breyer found that Walgreens’ San Francisco pharmacies had received more than 1.2 million opioid prescriptions with “red flags” from 2006 to 2020, yet performed due diligence on less than 5% before dispensing them.

Walgreens’ settlement averts a trial to determine damages.

San Francisco had estimated it might cost $8.1 billion to abate the opioid crisis, and that Walgreens was legally liable for the entire amount.

Last May, Walgreens reached a $683 million opioid settlement with Florida, paying more than three-quarters of the $878 million that four other companies, including rival CVS Health Corp (NYSE:), agreed to pay in similar, earlier settlements.

Opioids include legal painkillers such as OxyContin, and various forms of the drug fentanyl.

More than 600,000 people have died from drug overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2021, including more than 107,000 in 2021 alone, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Walgreens shares closed up 69 cents at $32.04 in Wednesday trading on Nasdaq.

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