When attorneys for Carroll County refiled its case against opioid drug makers, they did so with the knowledge that opioid medications were, for a time, dispensed in the county at a higher rate than the state — and even the nation at some points.
Carroll County, like other Maryland jurisdictions and cities and counties across the nation, is suing the makers of opioid medications for damages resulting from the opioid addiction epidemic.
After dismissing an initial suit filed over the summer — following the defendant drugmakers successfully moving the case to a federal court in Ohio currently seeing more than 2,000 similar suits — the attorneys handling the case for Carroll refiled the case in Carroll County Circuit Court on Tuesday, with an intent to keep the case there.
“We don’t want to be at the federal level at thousands of other cases. I think we have a better chance of a better outcome here,” said Carroll County Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3. "We want Carroll County’s people to decide what happens here, not somebody from Cleveland."
The lawsuit cites Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that shows the number of prescriptions dispensed for opioid medications per 100 people in Carroll County has outstripped the national average since sometime in 2009, and has far exceeded the overall numbers for Maryland as well. In 2006, Maryland saw 60.1 opioid prescriptions dispensed per 100 people, Carroll County saw 64.2 prescriptions and the nation saw 72.4.
By 2010, Maryland had risen to 71.2 opioid prescriptions dispensed per 100 people, while Carroll County was seeing 84 prescriptions dispensed and the entire country was averaging 81.2 prescriptions.
One of the ways the county and its attorneys hope to keep the case in Maryland is by including new, local defendants that were not named in the initial lawsuit. Maryland CVS Pharmacy LLC, and Rite Aid of Maryland LLC, both of which operate multiple pharmacies in Carroll County, are two of the new defendants named in the suit, as is Rosen-Hoffberg Rehabilitation and Pain Management Associates, which in February saw its Towson and Owings Mills locations raided by federal agents.
The lawsuit alleges that the CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies in Carroll recognized an oversupply of opioid medications to the area beyond medical need by drugmakers and distributors but, instead of staunching the flow, enabled and profited from it.
According to data from the federal Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS — a database that tracks controlled substance medication distribution and which had not been public prior to a court victory by The Washington Post — both pharmacy chains were top distributors of opioid medications such as hydrocodone or oxycodone from 2006 through 2012.
CVS Pharmacies in Carroll distributed 2,433,600 doses of opioid medications during that time frame, and Rite Aid pharmacies distributed 2,268,480 doses, according to the data acquired by the Post.
The data is raw, in that it doesn’t provide any information on whether any of those prescriptions were filled improperly without a legitimate prescription from a doctor. And CVS denied allegations of any misconduct in response to the Post publishing the ARCOS data.
“Pharmacies dispense medication, including controlled substances, to patients who have authorized prescriptions written by doctors, physicians and other prescribers,” the CVS statement read in part. "During the covered time period of 2006-2012, CVS had an average market share of over 18% for all retail prescriptions dispensed in the country. During those last two years, our market share for all retail prescriptions dispensed nationally was 20-21%.
“We dispensed over 4.2 billion retail prescriptions during that time period and opioid medications were a very small percentage of that total.”
The company also noted that it does not distribute fentanyl or oxycodone, the main ingredient in OxyContin. Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma admitted in 2007 to misleading people concerning the addictive potential of the drug and paid $600 million in federal fines.
The Carroll lawsuit names the members of the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, as defendants, whereas recompense from Purdue will be pursued in bankruptcy court after the company’s filing for Chapter 11 in September.
“We’re living in the aftermath of this false sale to the American people, that opioids were a great pharmaceutical savior, but basically all they did was make a heap load of profit on us at the death and misery of the citizens,” said Carroll County Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4. "And one of them was my daughter, so I take it very personally."
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Bouchat’s daughter died of an opioid overdose in February 2017.
He believes that the current wave of lawsuits against opioid drugmakers should be thought of the efforts that brought about Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998.
“We’re looking at that same premise. I’ve advocated all along that this will be the next great settlement outside of what took place with the tobacco industry,” he said. “I think it’s self-evident now. The tide is so strong, they’re not going to stop this.”
Exactly how that plays out, however, can depend on how things go in court. Both commissioners note that they want to keep the case in Carroll County court, where a local jury can make decisions — though Bouchat noted that he would prefer to avoid the cost of a trial and come to some sort of settlement that also forces drugmakers to disclose their actions related to the crisis.
Frazier also hopes to see Carroll recoup some of the costs associated with the opioid epidemic from the defendants, but he would also like to air out all the laundry.
“I would like to have the trial and get the information out so that people know what has happened,” he said, “I really would.”
Through the end of September, Carroll County has seen 322 overdoses in total in 2019, with 36 resulting in death, and at least 25 of those deaths associated with opioid drugs of some type, according to statistics collected by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office.