Attorneys defend opioid companies in closely watched SF case

Defense attorneys for pharmaceutical manufacturers and retailers on Tuesday said they never misled doctors and didn’t cause a flood of opioids into San Francisco that's blamed for fueling an overdose crisis in the city.

The attorneys gave their opening statements in the closely watched federal civil trial one day after attorneys for the city of San Francisco and state of California accused the defendants, including drug manufacturers Allergan and Teva, drug distributor Anda, and pharmacy Walgreens of creating a public nuisance for their role in the opioid epidemic. 

"My clients did not mislead doctors. My clients did not receive suspicious orders and my clients did not cause a flood of medically inappropriate prescriptions into San Francisco," defense attorney Collie James, who represents Teva and its subsidiaries, said in his opening. 

It marked the first time representatives for drug companies have spoken since the trial neared. Last week, Endo pharmaceuticals severed itself from the lawsuit after agreeing to a $10 million settlement with the city. 

James continued that his clients were responsible for only .06% of the opioids in the market and the worst culprits – like Oxycontin manufacturer Perdue Pharma – already settled.

Attorneys for the defendants also made an impassioned case for opioids for certain patients.

"Pain is their first companion in the morning and what tucks them in at night," James said. "These are the stories the people would like you to forget."

One day earlier, attorneys for the city played videos in their opening that James conceded was "in poor taste."

One showed Teva’s subsidiary Cephalon celebrating the fentanyl derivative fentora with music and fireworks. 

The case is being watched by the legal world around the nation. 

"This case is way bigger than the city of San Francisco and the parties. "The results of this case will have ripple effects far beyond just the city," said UC Berkeley law professor Andrew Bradt, who teaches complex litigation. 

He added that "The goal for these defendants is to try to win this case to send a signal in the rest of the lawsuits that the claims against them are not going to be worth that much."

Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky