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Remaining Md. counties sound off on plans to sue opioid companies

Most counties in Maryland, along with more than 20 cities and towns in the state, have filed suit against opioid companies in the last 18 months in an attempt to recoup the costs of fighting the drug epidemic still ravaging their communities.

Eighteen counties and Baltimore city are currently in litigation with companies including Purdue Pharma over allegations that the industry engaged in a campaign of misinformation about addiction risks and encouraged the overprescription of drugs such as Oxycontin. This month, Wicomico County became the latest to file suit.

Carroll, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset and Worcester counties are the only ones that had not sued as of Thursday.

Carroll expects to sue in the coming weeks in its circuit court, according to County Attorney Timothy Burke. The county hired outside counsel Theodora Oringher PC, a California-based firm, to assist with the case.

“We’ve been working with them collecting the data they need for their complaint and I expect it’s coming soon,” Burke said earlier this month.

Of the five counties yet to sue, Carroll has been the hardest-hit by the opioid crisis in terms of fatal overdoses. The county saw 68 opioid-related fatal overdoses in 2018 and 51 in 2017, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health. So far this year there have been 13 deaths.

Kent County has not retained counsel, but the county attorney and county administrator are gathering information to present to the county commissioners, according to Sondra Blackiston, board clerk.

Kent County has had fewer than five fatal opioid-related overdoses annually in recent years, but it saw three in just the first three months of 2019, according to preliminary data from the health department.

The Worcester County Commissioners have decided not to sue, according to County Attorney Maureen F.L. Howarth.

“They considered doing so and they’ve declined to participate in the litigation,” she said.

Worcester County had 10 opioid-related fatalities last year, according to the health department, down from 15 in 2017 and 20 in 2016. Preliminary data showed seven fatalities in the first quarter of 2019.

Queen Anne’s County was reportedly working with outside counsel last year, according to the Baltimore Sun, but no lawsuit had been filed in state or federal court as of Thursday. County Administrator Todd R. Mohn could not confirm the status of any lawsuit and County Attorney Patrick Thompson did not respond to requests for comment.

Representatives from Somerset County did not return calls seeking comment.

Mouse over the visualizations below to explore data about opioid deaths and lawsuits in Maryland:

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