Hydrocodone pills. Photo via Flickr, CC by 2.0

Two counties bordering Baltimore are suing pharmaceutical firms and distributors for contributing to the deadly opioid crisis that’s hit Maryland.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz today announced plans to sue “several pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of opioids,” five days after Anne Arundel County became the first Maryland jurisdiction to sue opioid makers, distributors and over-prescribing doctors.

Baltimore County’s pending federal lawsuit seeks monetary damages to pay for the county’s burden thus far in fighting opioid addiction. The announcement didn’t name any specific drug firms or distributors, and federal court records show the suit hasn’t been filed yet.

Kamenetz’s office has not responded to a request for details about the lawsuit.

“The opioid crisis has led to a significant increase of overdoses from heroin and prescription drug abuse,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “We believe that the pharmaceutical industry pressured and cajoled physicians into prescribing opioids for chronic pain, and vastly misrepresented the risk of addiction. The desire to increase profits on the part of drug companies is a leading cause of our nation’s health crisis, and we must fight back.”

One of the two firms the county has retained, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, is already representing two counties in Michigan and the City of Delray Beach, Fla., in similar lawsuits. The contract with the law firm is subject to Baltimore County Council approval.

Anne Arundel County, meanwhile, filed its lawsuit last Wednesday. Summonses were served to pharma industry heavyweights Purdue Pharma (maker of OxyContin), Teva Pharmaceuticals (maker of Percocet), Insys Therapeutics (maker of sprayable fentanyl), Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and others this morning, court records show. The county is suing opioid makers and distributors, as well as seven area physicians accused of over-prescribing opioids, for gross negligence, false claims, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation and other claims.

“Misleading and deceptive marketing practices and unethical prescribing practices have accelerated the opioid addiction epidemic in Anne Arundel County,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said in a statement. “Those who have had a hand in this epidemic must be held accountable.”

Motley Rice LLP, the firm representing Anne Arundel County, was or is currently representing 12 jurisdictions in eight other states in similar lawsuits.

The State of Maryland separately joined a multi-state probe of Big Pharma’s opioid-marketing tactics last year. Attorneys general from at least a dozen states said they were “looking into whether unlawful marketing practices have played a role in contributing to the epidemic.”

A total of 1,029 people died from opioid overdoses in the first six months of last year, according to the most up-to-date figures. One-hundred and sixty-three of the deaths were in Baltimore County; another 102 were in Anne Arundel County.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...