We don’t have any insight into whether the latest legal maneuverings by attorneys representing Carroll County in its lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers will be effective. We support the effort, however, on the theory that Carroll County — and by extension its citizens who have suffered because of the “corporate greed” alleged in the suit — deserves its day in court. Its own day. In a Maryland court.
The county initially filed suit on July 25, withdrew its suit about a month later after the case had been moved to federal court at the request of the defendants, and refiled in Carroll County Circuit Court on Tuesday. The idea is not to get lumped in with numerous other jurisdictions that have filed suits in response to the opioid epidemic. More than 2,000 lawsuits against opioid drug makers are now part of the multidistrict litigation before a federal judge in Ohio.
“Every time a city or county tries to file one of these cases in its local jurisdiction, which is where my clients want to have the cases adjudicated, the defendants very much recoil against that,” Jeff Reeves, of the California-based firm Theodora Oringher, which is is working with Baltimore-based Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler to represent Carroll County, told us. "They want all of these cases shipped to a faraway courtroom in Cleveland, Ohio, where they will languish in purgatory for years. ... We want to have our own case, our own judge, our own trial.”
Makes sense. In an effort to ensure the lawsuit stays out of federal court this time around, the refiling also names multiple defendants in Maryland, including CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies, whose roles in distributing opioids were made explicit by access to the federal Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System database that tracks controlled substance medication distribution. Perhaps tweaking the suit and refiling it will allow Carroll’s case to be heard here, individually.
For those wondering why manufacturers should be liable, the filing makes a compelling case, alleging that more than 25 named pharmaceutical companies and their subsidiaries contributed to and profited from an opioid drug addiction epidemic that has claimed 260 lives in Carroll from 2012 through the first half of 2019. “This case is about corporate greed,” it reads. “Simply stated, each of the Defendants put its desire for profits above the health and well-being of Carroll County’s citizens. Carroll County and its citizens have paid dearly as a result.”
The suit alleges that Carroll County dedicates a major portion of tax revenues to pay for services, but has been significantly hampered in its ability to provide those services because of an opiod epidemic that has created what it calls “a perverse dichotomy.”
“The overburdened service areas require a greater share of Carroll County’s scarce tax dollars, while at the same time, the crisis itself decreases the tax dollars Carroll County can generate. That is because opioid addiction takes productive members of society out of the economy, usually due to death or the inability to work. ... Most who become addicted to opioids are no longer able to work, and therefore are no longer able to care for their families, earn a paycheck or spend money in the same way they did before they fell victim to addiction. This predictable downward spiral means Carroll County’s tax revenues have suffered. These harms are the direct and proximate result of Defendants’ scheme to increase their profits.”
The filing goes through the history of opioids, saying they were rarely prescribed to treat more than short-term, acute or cancer-related pain until the drug companies “began a sophisticated marketing and distribution scheme premised on deception to persuade patients that opioids can and should be used to treat chronic pain.” Thus was born the epidemic, the suit alleges.
“An oversupply of prescription opioids has created a population of patients physically and psychologically dependent on them (the demand). And when those patients can no longer afford or legitimately obtain opioids, they often turn to the street to buy prescription opioids or even heroin. As a result of Defendants’ conduct, Carroll County must devote increased resources."
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These are undoubtedly the same or similar to arguments made in the landmark Oklahoma opioid lawsuit that concluded this summer with Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $572 million. There’s no telling what fraction of that number Carroll County might be awarded. In fact, there is no guarantee Carroll County would win. But it would be nice to see the case heard — preferably some 350 miles southeast of Cleveland.