Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Editorial: Carroll should sue opioid manufacturers

Carroll County commissioners last week asked its legal staff to look into whether it would be wise for the county to join many others in Central Maryland and file a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and marketed prescription opioid drugs like OxyContin that many believe are at the root of the resurgence of heroin and subsequent addiction epidemic.

Our only question is what took so long?


Other jurisdictions have sued alleging deceptive marketing practices by these companies, claiming they funded research that led to biased findings about the dangers of opioid pills, then spread false information to both doctors and consumers. For example, a number of studies have shown OxyContin was marketed as not especially addictive, but that obviously turned out not to be the case.

While there are comparatively few deaths related directly to prescription drug overdoses, the overprescribing of prescription opioids for pain is generally regarded as the reason for the rise in opioid misuse and abuse, addiction and the subsequent resurgence of heroin and other street opioids, including the powerful and deadly synthetic fentanyl.


In 2017, 41 overdoses deaths were tied to legal or illegal opioid drugs, according to Carroll County Sheriff’s Office statistics. There were also at least 371 nonfatal opioid related overdoses responded to by law enforcement last year. Already, at least 10 people have died in Carroll County due to drug or alcohol-related overdoses in 2018, according to the sheriff’s office.

Some of the suits, such as the one filed by Anne Arundel County government, also targets doctors and practices noted by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office as having improper prescribing practices.

Lawsuits filed in other jurisdictions seek to force drug companies to change how they do business and any money awarded would presumably be put toward fighting the effects of the opioid crisis in those communities.

When the commissioners briefly discussed the possibility of filing or joining a lawsuit last week , the debate essentially centered around whether they should pursue legal action simply to ensure themselves a piece of the pie should a large settlement be reached — Commissioner Stephen Wantz compared it to the 1998 settlement between states and the tobacco companies. “There were billions of dollars that came back to state and local jurisdiction to be used for health initiatives as it pertained to those who had been either smokers or what have you,” he said.

But we agree with Commissioner Richard Rothschild that Carroll shouldn’t sue merely because it could be a way to fund their own battle against the epidemic. However, there is significant evidence that pharmaceutical companies have most certainly played a role in how this crisis has unfolded (and, sadly, companies that make drugs that can help, such as Suboxone and Vivitrol, continue to find ways to manipulate the system to charge exorbitant prices and profit from people suffering through this crisis).

Carroll shouldn’t join or file any lawsuits strictly for a money grab, but if the commissioners believe as others do that Big Pharma needs to be held accountable for their role in the epidemic, then there is no question they should follow through.