Anne Arundel County announced plans Wednesday to sue opioid manufacturers, distributors and local doctors who dangerously over-prescribe as well as the hiring of a national law firm to pursue the litigation.
The county is the first jurisdiction in Maryland to announce a future lawsuit after coming to the “sad but undeniable conclusion that major pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors are complicit” in the opioid crisis facing the county and the state, Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said at a news conference Wednesday.
Motley Rice LLC has been retained on a contingency basis to investigate and pursue causes of action and has been working with the county to gather information for approximately two months, according to County Attorney Nancy McCutchan Duden. Motley Rice has offices throughout the U.S., including Washington, D.C., and has filed lawsuits in other jurisdictions against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
County spokesman Owen McEvoy said Wednesday the decision to retain outside counsel was because of the expertise required for the kind of litigation the county is contemplating. The county might seek damages under the False Claims Act and Maryland Consumer Protection Act and for fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, among other claims.
“Our attorneys in our office of law are fantastic… but this is a very specialized field of litigation and we needed the best of the best,” he said.
Motley Rice attorney Elizabeth Smith said at the news conference that no causes of action or defendants are off the table while information continues to be gathered.
“We care deeply about addressing the opioid crisis and we’re committed to approaching this in a way that makes sense for Anne Arundel County,” said Smith, a member in the firm’s Washington office.
Schuh said Anne Arundel is “uniquely positioned” for legal action because it has been dramatically affected by the opioid crisis, which was declared a state emergency by Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this year. There were as many opioid-related overdose deaths in the county within the first three months of 2017 as the entire year of 2016, according to the county. Anne Arundel experiences three overdoses per day and more than two fatalities per week related to opioid addiction, and the county’s opioid prescription rate remains above the national average and nearly three times higher than in 1999.
“We’re at the breaking point,” Schuh said.
Though combating the crisis will take years, Schuh said he intends to hold accountable manufacturers and distributors of prescription drugs, which are often the source of an opioid addiction, who have been “sitting idly by while this crisis unfolded.”
Schuh accused to drug companies of issuing studies downplaying the addictive qualities of their products and encouraging and rewarding doctors who over-prescribe them.
“We know who you are,” he said. “We need to send a message in one strong, united voice that misleading and deceptive marketing practices are unacceptable in this county and in our country.”
McEvoy said part of the county’s preparation for a lawsuit involves compiling data on the costs of the epidemic on the county, from emergency services to county employees who struggle with addiction.