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/File Photo

Walgreens Boots Alliance supplied billions of opioid pills to drug addicts and criminals, contributing to an addiction epidemic in the US state of Florida, a lawyer said on Monday (April 11) in a civil trial against the pharmacy chain.

The parent company of Boots UK 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 told jurors.

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

The company has denied the allegations, saying it filled prescriptions written by doctors.

Walgreens is the final remaining defendant in the trial taking place before Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd in Pasco County Circuit Court, after the state reached $878 million in settlements with four others.

Pharmacy chain rival CVS Health Corp agreed to pay $484 million, while drugmakers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd will pay $194.8 million, Abbvie Inc’s Allergan unit will pay $134.2 million and Endo International Plc will pay $65 million.

Walgreens has argued it was immune from being sued based on a mere $3,000 settlement it reached with Florida in 2012, following an investigation into its record-keeping policies and efforts to prevent the diversion of opioid drugs.

The company has said Florida was bound by that accord even if it now regretted the terms as a “bad bargain.”

The state of Florida has called Walgreens’ position “absurd,” saying the settlement addressed only a single record-keeping violation.

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.

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

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