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The Aegis
Harford County

Aberdeen leaders hear pitch for joining lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors

The City of Aberdeen has been invited to join its fellow municipalities of Bel Air and Havre de Grace, as well as the Harford County government and many other jurisdictions in Maryland and nationwide, in suing opioid manufacturers and distributors for their alleged role in driving the current deadly opioid addiction scourge.

“[About] 85 percent of the folks on heroin started on opioids, that comes from the [U.S.] Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention],” Bel Air attorney John Kane Jr. told the Aberdeen mayor and City Council Monday evening.

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Kane, of The Kane Law Group, and attorney Joseph Snee Jr., of Snee, Lutche, Helmlinger & Spielberger P.A. in Bel Air, delivered a presentation about ongoing legal proceedings happening against firms that manufacture and distribute prescription medication given to patients for physical pain and have since been determined to be addictive.

Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, agreed in late March to settle with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million. The state’s lawsuit was one of more than 1,600 that have been filed against Purdue Pharma. The settlement money will cover legal fees — $60 million — as well as addiction treatment and research programs in Oklahoma, NPR reported last month.

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Kane cited that settlement during his presentation in Aberdeen Monday. Ninety-six suspected overdoses, 16 of them fatal, have happened in Harford County so far this year, according to Sheriff’s Office statistics.

The attorney also cited statistics indicating that, as of 2015, 61 OxyContin pills per person, per year, had been sold in Harford County over 10 years. Mayor Patrick McGrady asked if he meant “regulated medicine.”

“That’s from a pharmacy, that’s not the illegal stuff,” Kane said.

Kane showed another chart that indicated a steady climb in the rate of overdose deaths in Harford from 1999 to 2015. He also presented CDC data stating 72,000 overdose deaths happening nationwide in 2017 — many more than the roughly 58,000 American servicemembers killed during the Vietnam War.

He said distributors, such as McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, have “one duty,” as assigned by Congress in the early 1970s, to report to the DEA, any suspicious orders from drug manufacturers to retailers.

“All those years, not one distributor said, “We have a suspicious order,’” Kane noted.

The Kane Law Group, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is working with other law firms such as Ferrer Poirot & Wansbrough, Fears Nachawati, Motley Rice and SLHS — Snee’s law firm — to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors.

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The Bel Air town commissioners and Havre de Grace City Council approved resolutions in 2018 to retain those firms and pursue legal action. The Harford County Council gave its approval last March to a request by the administration of County Executive Barry Glassman to retain Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP to also sue manufacturers and distributors.

“Consider our proposal to you,” Kane told Aberdeen officials. “Look it over and let us know if you’d like to go down the road further with us.”

Kane said he and Snee will be local counsel, serving as “the face for the city,” the same role they serve for Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

Aberdeen leaders did not take action on Kane’s proposal Monday night. Kane said “the sooner the better” for a decision in response to a question from McGrady about the city’s timeline.

Kane said he and his colleagues plan to enter into settlement discussions in early May — the firms are also considering filing suit in state court in Maryland, or having the Harford County communities join hundreds of other jurisdictions participating in multi-district litigation in federal court in Ohio.

Kane noted new clients cannot be added once settlement discussions start.

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He stressed that the city “will never write us a check,” that all legal costs would be paid out of a settlement on a descending scale of 25 to 5 percent — the percentage decreases as the settlement amount increases, according to Kane.

He said attorneys would seek damages that not only cover actual damages suffered by a community going back to when OxyContin was introduced into the market in 1996 but a 10-year “abatement program” involving community-based initiatives such as addiction treatment and education for youths, adults, even police.

McGrady asked what sort of damages would be covered, and Kane said it would be “anything in relation to the drug problem” that the city had to take on such as purchasing Narcan to revive overdose victims, hiring more police officers or EMS personnel, and expanding or upgrading public facilities such as police stations.

Kane said none of the settlement money funding the abatement program would go to attorneys, all of it would go to the city.

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“That’s the city’s money — we don’t touch that money,” Kane said. “That’s for the help that you deserve in this community to fix the problem.”

Councilman Tim Lindecamp, who is also athletic director for Aberdeen High School, expressed support for pursuing legal action. He said he has seen high school and college athletes be prescribed opioids after being badly hurt.

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“The next thing you know the student-athlete is addicted,” he said.

Lindecamp asked Kane if the attorneys are taking on doctors as well as pharmaceutical firms. Kane said they generally are not going after doctors or small pharmacies, although a local doctor who had been convicted as “a bad actor” could be a defendant if the attorneys file in state court.

He stressed that doctors, who have received information from pharmaceutical firms, “need to be retrained as well.”

Resident Bob Hartman also encouraged the city to participate.

“I think it’s a good return for anything we [had] invested into” fighting opioid addiction, Hartman said.


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