Baltimore City Sues Opioid Makers, Distributors and 2 Towson-Based Doctors Over Epidemic

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Hydrocodone pills. Photo via Flickr, CC by 2.0

The City of Baltimore plans to file its own lawsuit today against the makers of Oxycontin and other addictive pain pills in an attempt to hold them accountable for the deadly and worsening opioid epidemic.

City Solicitor Andre Davis told reporters Wednesday he will file a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court against Purdue Pharma, maker of the widely marketed pill Oxycontin; McKesson Corp., the country’s largest drug distributor; and other businesses accused of operating as “pill mills” that made the drugs easily available to patients.

Davis himself will be involved in the legal fight, along with two of his deputies from the city’s Law Department, The Sun reports. “They were reckless, they were intentional, it was marketing, it was greed,” he was quoted as saying.

A copy of the 105-page lawsuit that Davis shared with Baltimore Fishbowl names Towson-based Rosen-Hoffberg Rehabilitation & Pain Management Associates — described as a “pill mill” — and eight other large pharmaceutical manufacturers or distributors as defendants in the case.

“Manufacturing Defendants’ marketing of opioids for long-term use to treat chronic pain, both directly and with and through third parties, included information that was false, misleading, contrary to credible scientific evidence and their own labels, and lacked balance and substantiation,” the suit claims. “Their marketing materials omitted material information about the risks of opioids, and overstated their benefits.”

The suit claims all of the defendants were a public nuisance and negligent, and that the drug makers violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act and False Claims Statute. It asks the court to make them pay for all costs and damages incurred by the city in handling the overdose epidemic.

The city is working with law firm Sussman Godfrey LLP on the case.

At the beginning of January, Anne Arundel County sued both Purdue and McKesson, as well as Teva Pharmaceuticals, which makes Percocet, Insys Therapeutics, which makes sprayable fentanyl, and other companies and seven area physicians for gross negligence, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation and other claims.

Baltimore County also announced plans to sue “several pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of opioids,” though the county council must first approve an agreement to retain a private law firm before the suit can be filed in federal court.

More than 9,000 Marylanders died from drug and alcohol overdoses from the start of 2010 through September 2017, with more than 85 percent of those deaths caused by opioids, according to state data. Nearly a third of Maryland’s overdose deaths in that period happened in Baltimore, and almost 2,500 people in Baltimore alone have died from using opioids, specifically.

While prescription pills aren’t responsible for the bulk of the deaths nowadays, experts have said the crisis began with the widespread availability of pills like Oxycontin that were marketed as non-addictive, but actually proved to be highly addictive and led users to pursue harder drugs like heroin, and now fentanyl, to satisfy their cravings. Years later, states like Maryland are dealing with an explosion in heroin- and, more recently, fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

The State of Maryland has joined a probe of Big Pharma’s marketing and sales tactics for opioids, and CityLab reported in October 2017 that 10 cities had sued companies over the epidemic within the last year, or were planning to file lawsuits soon. Count Baltimore among that group now.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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