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Maryland Board of Public Works approves deal to share with outside lawyers any money recovered from opioid industry

Maryland’s Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved a deal in which outside lawyers will help the state investigate the opioid industry for potential litigation — and receive a percentage of whatever money they help recover.

The state spending panel approved a deal with three firms — Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd of San Diego, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein of San Francisco and Silverman Thompson Slutkin & White of Baltimore — that will pay the lawyers from 3 percent to 8 percent of awards, depending on how much companies settle for or judges order paid in penalties.

Under the terms of the deal, for example, if the lawyers help recover $1 billion for Maryland taxpayers from the opioid firms, the lawyers will keep at least $30 million.

“Despite widespread public- and private-sector efforts, the opioid crisis exacts a heavy toll in lives, suffering, and resources,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office wrote in a memo to board members. “As one of the most serious public health and safety emergencies of our time, the crisis requires a strong response across all levels and branches of government.”

Frosh’s office said that it has been pursuing Maryland-specific investigations and participating in several multi-state investigations of opioid manufacturers and distributors for potential violations of state laws governing the marketing, sale and distribution of prescription opioids.

Last year, Frosh’s office accused a manufacturer of a powerful fentanyl spray of violating consumer protection laws thousands of times by engaging in a “deceptive scheme” to buy the help of doctors and deceive insurance companies to boost sales — and is seeking $20 million in penalties.

The company, Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics, has said it does not comment on pending ligation.

Frosh’s office indicated they were pursuing other companies, as well, though he did not name them.

“The multiple targets and enormous scope of these ongoing investigations require an investment of effort and resources significantly beyond the capacity of the office of the attorney general, even assuming an addition of personnel to the consumer protection division,” Frosh’s office said.

Through the first half of 2018, Maryland recorded 1,185 opioid-related overdose deaths — 15 percent more than the same period in 2017. The midyear figure is the most recent the Maryland Department of Health has tallied. If deaths continued at that pace, the 2018 fatalities will surpass the previous year’s record of 2,009. That figure ranked Maryland among the hardest-hit states as the nation recorded 48,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2017.

The three-member Board of Public Works, which oversees significant state expenditures, is composed of Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, both Democrats.

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