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Frosh, Davis focus on government response to opioid crisis

Officials speak at ABA conference in Baltimore

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who spoke Thursday at an American Bar Association conference in Baltimore, stressed that the opioid crisis must be dealt with as a matter of public health. (File photo)

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who spoke Thursday at an American Bar Association conference in Baltimore, stressed that the opioid crisis must be dealt with as a matter of public health. (File photo)

As more and more jurisdictions file lawsuits against drug manufacturers for their role in the opioid crisis, officials at a conference in Baltimore on Thursday stressed that a multifaceted approach was needed to target opioid addiction in Maryland and across the country.

“What we’re looking at is a public health crisis,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh at a panel discussion held at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore hotel. “It can’t solely be (done) by law enforcement; it has to be dealt with as a public health crisis, but our office is committed to doing what we can to bring it to a halt in Maryland.”

Frosh and City Solicitor Andre M. Davis were panelists at the American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law’s annual Land Use Institute event. The panel focused on state and government efforts to address the opioid crisis through local and national opioid litigation brought against manufacturers and distributors, as well as through other means outside the courts.

“I grew up not very far from here, in East Baltimore in a working-class neighborhood that had its share of addicts of various sorts, including heroin addicts,” Davis said during the panel discussion, which was moderated by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

“My own career has been one that’s really been never far from the reality of addiction and the opioid involvement in our society,” Davis said.

Several Maryland counties — including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Charles, Harford, Montgomery and Prince George’s — as well as Annapolis and Baltimore city have filed suit against drug manufacturers in state or federal court since January 2018.

Baltimore was one of the first Maryland jurisdictions to file a lawsuit against drug manufacturers. The city has been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis, accounting for 34 percent of opioid overdose deaths in the state in 2017, Laura Garcia, director of adult medicine at Health Care for the Homeless, said Thursday during the panel discussion.

The lawsuits seek not only to recover damages from prescription drug manufacturers and distributors but also to change how drug companies advertise and distribute their products.

The state has also been investigating the drug companies since 2016, Frosh said, and could file an administrative or circuit court action to attempt to compensate the state and its citizens.

“We’re trying to figure out a way we can exert the maximum leverage and get the best settlement terms,” Frosh said about efforts involving divisions within his office and collaborations with attorneys general across the country.

Last year, the attorney general’s consumer protection division charged Insys Therapeutics Inc., alleging the drug maker and local health care providers circumvented the limited approval for its extremely potent drug, Subsys, and targeted “off label” patients without cancer, including patients with chronic pain syndrome, knee pain, back pain and migraines.

“We are going to continue our effort to recover the damages that have been suffered by citizens of Maryland,” Frosh said Thursday. “Let me also say this: There isn’t enough money to heal what these guys have hurt.”

While Frosh agreed that the large-scale litigation is similar to the lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers, he said drug companies do not have the same resources to pay out in any national settlement.

“Unlike the tobacco crisis and settlement that was reached by attorneys general two decades ago, these drug companies don’t have net worths large enough to fix the problems that they have created,” Frosh said.

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