Pittman defends $4,000 in donations from doctor in Anne Arundel opioid lawsuit

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

Anne Arundel County executive candidate Steuart Pittman has received $4,000 in campaign donations from a doctor who is being sued by the county for allegedly overprescribing opioid medication.

Dr. William Tham is named in a civil lawsuit filed by Anne Arundel County as part of its campaign against opioid overdose. The county alleges Tham, other physicians and opioid manufacturers contributed to the county’s opioid crisis by over-prescribing the medication. No criminal charges have been filed against Tham.

Pittman, a Democrat, said he was aware of the donations and the lawsuit. If Tham is found to have over-prescribed medication, Pittman said he would return the donations .

Politicians and the news media have made it difficult for people seeking opioid treatments as doctors view it as “too much trouble,” Pittman said.

“I don’t know what the merits are of the county's case against Dr. Tham and the other doctors named,” Pittman said. “I know that all of them, however, are innocent until proven guilty. I also know that if we don’t have doctors engaged in our battle against this epidemic, we will lose. We all need to come together to treat and eventually eradicate this disease.”

Pittman is running against County Executive Steve Schuh, a Republican. They face each other in the Nov. 6 election. Schuh’s campaign, in a statement on Wednesday, said Pittman should return the donations:

“It is unfortunate that Steuart Pittman accepted a campaign contribution from an individual who is currently involved in a lawsuit with the County for outrageous over-prescribing of opiates. This action contradicts Mr. Pittman's previous statements that he wants to end 'pay to play' politics in Anne Arundel County. Our campaign calls on Mr. Pittman to return the contribution out of respect for all of those working to combat the opioid epidemic and battle addiction.”

Tham’s donations were made in three separate transactions. He gave Pittman’s campaign $500, $1,000 and $2,500 starting on June 1. His most recent — and largest — donation was given on Aug. 20.

Tham could not be reached for comment.

Pittman has touted his campaign’s push for individual donations and lack of support from builders and developers. Individuals can give up to $6,000 to a campaign, so Tham is in the upper echelon of donors to Pittman’s campaign.

Tham also donated $200 to Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016 and $750 to the Change Annapolis Political Action Committee in 2017.

The two most recent Tham donations to Pittman listed his employer as Novus Pain Management, a Cumberland clinic. Tham is listed as the resident agent of the Annapolis and Glen Burnie clinics Physical Medicine and Pain Management. Phones to those clinics are disconnected.

Attempts to contact Novus Pain Management went unanswered. The Capital could not leave a message as the organization’s message box is full.

Tham was named in a civil lawsuit filed by Washington, D.C., firm Motley Rice on the county’s behalf. That firm represents four states and 12 other municipalities in similar suits. No criminal charges have been filed against Tham.

According to the lawsuit, Tham received $100,000 from pharmaceutical companies between August 2013 and December 2015.

Other physicians named in the lawsuit have not donated to Pittman nor Schuh’s campaign. Dr. Kofi Shaw-Taylor, another doctor named in the lawsuit, pleaded guilty to a charge of Medicaid fraud and another for conspiracy to commit Medicaid fraud. Shaw-Taylor was sentenced to five years in prison.

Tham is not like other physicians listed in the lawsuit, so there should be caution about judging without understanding, said Gene Ransom, chief executive officer of MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society

“I don’t know the specifics of the case, but prior to the civil lawsuit being filed, you didn’t get a lot of complaints or issues around (Tham),” Ransom said. “And I’m not aware of any charges pending at the Maryland Board of Physicians; I would not say that for some of the other physicians in the lawsuit.”

The lawsuit is a change in strategy for federal, state and local prosecutors. As governments move toward health care treatment for opioid abusers, prosecutors look to opioid manufacturers and prescribers as liable in overdose deaths. Anne Arundel County had a record number of opioid overdoses and deaths in 2017.

There were 152 fatal overdoses in 2017. As of Tuesday there were 138 this year, according to police data.

Former County Executive Laura Neuman — who endorsed Pittman on Wednesday — said she was not aware of Tham’s donations to Pittman before her announcement.

“.Any doctor overprescribing any drugs should be fully prosecuted and campaign donations returned,” Neuman said. “It would be out of character for Steuart to suggest otherwise.”

Neuman’s endorsement announcement was released a few minutes after a phone call to the Pittman campaign asking about the Tham donations. Pittman said the announcement was not related to that phone call.

The Neuman announcement had been in the works for a few days, Pittman said.

Pittman said he is working with doctors to encourage them to be more active in combatting opioid overdoses throughout the county.

“There are many obstacles discouraging our doctors from treating substance use disorders,” he said. “One is bullying from politicians who are looking for scapegoats.”

Tham’s name surfaced elsewhere in county politics during the debate on a proposed medical marijuana dispensary off Generals Highway. Tham was originally the medical and research director of the facility, but was removed from that position.

He is married to Dr. Susan Zimmerman, CEO and co-owner of Kind Therapeutics, the business proposing the dispensary off Generals Highway.

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