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Anne Arundel judge dismisses doctors from opioid litigation

Local doctors accused of contributing to the opioid crisis were dismissed from Anne Arundel County’s lawsuit last week after a judge determined the county failed to comply with state law for malpractice claims.

The doctors and their practices were named as part of a massive lawsuit accusing pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of engaging in a scheme to deceptively market drugs such as OxyContin and flood the market, contributing to an addiction crisis.

The doctors named in the lawsuits are accused of either participating in kickback schemes run by the drug companies or of prescribing the drugs excessively and directly contributing to the crisis, which the pharmaceutical companies should have recognized and flagged pursuant to reporting laws, according to the lawsuits.

Several of the doctors named in the county’s lawsuit were indicted by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General and have since pleaded guilty to distribution of controlled dangerous substances.

The group dismissed May 28 by Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth is possibly the first in the state to successfully litigate a motion to dismiss. Though the motions Silkworth ruled on were filed by Lawrence Vidaver and William Tham, as well as their practices, he extended the decision to the other doctors and their practice groups.

The county consented to the dismissal of other defendants earlier this year.

Silkworth found the county had not complied with the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act, which requires claims against a health care provider for medical injuries be filed with the Health Claims Arbitration Dispute Resolution Office before they can proceed to court.

The defendants argued that they were health care providers under the act and that the allegations relating to prescribing practices amounted to allegations of medical injuries, according to Silkworth’s order summarizing filings. The county claimed the doctors were operating pill mills and prescribing inappropriately, actions that fell outside professional capacity, and also engaged in non-medical activities, such as kickback schemes.

But Silkworth said it would be “a stretch” to say that prescription practices were not part of the defendants’ role as medical providers.

“Plainly, prescribing medication in a proper manner falls within a physician’s professional duty to exercise care,” Silkworth wrote.

Deputy County Attorney Hamilton F. Tyler said Monday that the county is considering its options regarding the ruling.

“The County contended that the Defendant prescribers’ actions were not medical in nature — they simply served as a vehicle for Defendants to profit from the distribution of harmful and unnecessary drugs,” he said in a statement. “Several of the Defendant prescribers were convicted of crimes associated with their distribution of opioids as detailed in the Amended Complaint.”

Attorneys for Vidaver and Tham did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The case is Anne Arundel County v. Purdue Pharma et al., C-02-CV-18-000021.

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