The Carroll County Board of Commissioners has filed suit against the manufacturers of opioid drugs, seeking damages related to the addiction epidemic that has claimed hundreds of lives here over the past decade.
By doing so, Carroll joins more than two dozen Maryland jurisdictions that have filed suit against drug makers in the past two years, including Wicomico County and the City of Laurel, which filed suits on July 9.
The Carroll suit also names as individual plaintiffs eight members of the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma.
“We’re trying to recoup the damages Carroll County experienced because of being mislead by the drug companies,” Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said in an interview Tuesday evening. “The paramedics running to the scene and grabbing somebody that’s overdosed, administering the Narcan — all that, it all drains on the resources that we have here in Carroll County.”
Carroll County saw more than 2,300 opioid overdoses and 260 deaths from 2012 through the first half of 2019, according to a Tuesday afternoon Carroll County government news release on the lawsuit.
The Carroll lawsuit, filed July 25 in Carroll County Circuit Court, seeks redress for damages from 29 pharmaceutical companies or their subsidiaries — including Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the opioid medication known as OxyContin — according to the court filing, alleging that companies purposefully mislead doctors and the public about the risk of their drugs.
In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of understating the risks of OxyContin and were hit with more than $600 million in penalties.
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It was such evidence that companies such as Purdue purposefully mislead physicians and, by extension, the public, that brought Frazier around on the idea of a lawsuit.
“To be honest with you I wasn’t in favor of it when I first heard about it. Because unlike with the cigarette manufacturers we sued, the doctors are the gatekeeper for this," Frazier said, referring to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in which tobacco manufacturers agreed to compensate states for the harms caused by their addictive products. “But when the doctors are mislead, I guess the ones you have to go back to then are the drug manufacturing companies. They are the ones that mislead the doctors.”
Similar lawsuits across the country have met with mixed success. In March, Purdue Pharma agreed to a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma, while a suit in North Dakota was dismissed.
The commissioners explicitly rejected the idea of joining an ongoing suit in Ohio, in federal court, according to Frazier.
“We don’t want to be involved with the federal suit, because then you have people from out of state determining what damages Carroll County may or may not have undergone. We want people in Maryland that know what’s going on in Maryland and Carroll County to make the decision.”
In fighting the current lawsuits, Purdue Pharma has denied wrongdoing.
“These complaints are part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” the company said in a statement. “The states cannot link the conduct alleged to the harm described, and so they have invented stunningly overbroad legal theories, which if adopted by courts, will undermine the bedrock legal principle of causation.”