Judge dismisses class action suit claiming Walgreens opioid policy harms patients

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A federal judge has dismissed a proposed class action lawsuit accusing Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. — one of the largest pharmacy chains in the U.S. — of discriminating against people with disabilities by discouraging pharmacists from filling high-dose opioid prescriptions.

Walgreens and other pharmacies have found themselves stuck in the middle of the debate over America’s opioid crisis. The pharmacies face thousands of lawsuits nationwide accusing them of “failing to stop illegal opioid distribution, contributing to an epidemic of addiction that has killed more than half a million people over two decades,” reports Reuters.

In August, Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart were ordered to pay $650 million after a federal judge held the companies responsible for the spread of illicit opioid usage in two Ohio counties. Similarly, in a separate August case, a federal judge ruled that Walgreens “substantially contributed” to San Francisco's opioid epidemic.

“This decision gives voice to the thousands of lives lost to the opioid epidemic,” San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said at the time of the local ruling. “This crisis did not come out of nowhere. It was created by the opioid industry, and local jurisdictions like San Francisco have had to shoulder the burden for far too long.”

Some patients, however, say that people with severe pain have been harmed by efforts to curb the illegal use of opioids.

Susan Smith is the plaintiff who brought the recently dismissed suit against Walgreens. Smith said that Walgreens instituted new corporate policies instructing pharmacists to “apply extra scrutiny to high dose or prolonged opioid prescriptions and warned them that they could face liability if they did not,” according to Reuters.

Smith argued that this policy constituted a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and California civil rights law because people with disabilities were more likely to need high-dose opioid prescriptions.

Walgreens said that Smith failed to explain how its policy resulted in prescriptions not being filed, and how it discriminated against people with disabilities. The judge sided with Walgreens, stating that Smith “has not plausibly alleged that the policy is ‘so closely associated' with disabled people” that it amounts to discriminating against them.

The case is Smith v. Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 3:20-cv-05451.

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