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Maryland charges pharmaceutical companies for role in opioid epidemic

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed new charges this week against several pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic, building on similar charges filed earlier this month against the companies’ owners and board members.

Frosh announced the new charges Wednesday against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, the generic opioid manufacturer Rhodes Pharmaceuticals and related entities. The state claims the companies schemed to increase profits by marketing prescription opioids through “unfair and deceptive trade practices,” according to a news release.

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The new charges come about two weeks after Maryland joined four other states in pursuing charges against members of the Sackler family, who owned, directed and controlled Purdue and Rhodes, the release states.

The drug makers are facing comparable legal action from attorneys general in Iowa, Kansas, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Purdue recently agreed to pay Oklahoma $270 million to settle similar allegations.

A representative for Rhodes did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

In an emailed statement, Purdue denied the allegations in Maryland and said that it will defend itself.

“These sensationalized claims are part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system, as plaintiffs are unable to connect the conduct alleged to the harm described,” the company states. “Instead, they have invented stunningly overbroad legal theories, which if adopted by courts, will undermine the bedrock legal principle of causation.”

Purdue states OxyContin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that its label lists the medication as a controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse.

The company also pointed to a recent decision by a North Dakota court to dismiss similar claims filed by the state’s attorney general. North Dakota officials plan to appeal the decision.

Frosh alleged the companies’ scheme was designed to mislead Marylanders about the general benefits of opioids and Purdue opioids specifically, while downplaying their risks, which include opioid-induced worsening of pain, addiction and death.

“The charges describe a pattern of deception designed to sell life-threatening medicines without regard to the risk posed to the patients who consumed them,” Frosh said in a statement. “We allege that Purdue and its related entities inflicted devastating harm, and in many cases irreversible harm, on patients and their families.”

Maryland ranks among the top five states for the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths and has seen a nearly 300% increase since 2010, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

Frosh claims the companies misled prescribing doctors about its opioids’ addictive qualities by telling them that common symptoms associated with addiction, such as misrepresenting pain symptoms and using drugs like cocaine and heroin, were signs of “pseudoaddiction” that could be addressed by increasing doses and, therefore, Purdue’s profits.

Purdue allegedly ignored warning signs of problematic prescribing by doctors in Maryland and recruited some problem prescribers as speakers, paying them to promote the company’s opioids, the release states.

These practices allegedly “fueled the epidemic” and “fed the addiction of a generation of Marylanders,” the court documents state.

Frosh is seeking “a restraining order against Purdue and Rhodes from further violations of the State’s Consumer Protection Act, monetary penalties for each violation and disgorgement of all revenue the companies received from unlawful conduct,” according to the release.

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Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

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