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Baltimore Sues Drug Companies for Alleged Roles in Opioid Epidemic

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Jamyla Krempel
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Baltimore City is suing a number of drug companies and distributors as well as two Baltimore County doctors for their alleged roles in the city’s opioid crisis. The city joins more than a hundred states and cities that have already filed lawsuits against the companies. WYPR City Hall Reporter Dominique Maria Bonessi talked with Nathan Sterner about the suit.

NATHAN: Why is Baltimore jumping on the band wagon now to sue these companies?

DOMINIQUE: As of last year 523 Baltimoreans have died from opioid overdoses and in the past decade there have been over 3000 overdose deaths. City Solicitor Andre Davis says he wants those allegedly responsible for the injuries and damage caused by “the fraudulent and reckless marketing of opioids” held accountable.

He said in a written statement, “Corporations were the root cause of the opioid epidemic and enabled and encouraged the escalation of this public health crisis. So far, they have refused to take responsibility for the harm they have caused.”

NATHAN: Who are the players in this lawsuit?

DOMIIQUE: So the city is the plaintiff and they are being represented by the Susman-Godfrey, a high-powered national law firm. And the defendants are a welter of drug manufacturers and distributors with all sorts of interlocking corporate ties. Purdue Pharma is the biggest one. And there are two Baltimore County doctors who run a pain management clinic in Towson.

NATHAN: What is the city arguing against these big pharma companies?

DOMINIQUE: The city’s argument is that 8 out of 10 new heroin users begin by abusing prescription opioids from one of these companies. Also, in his statement Davis alleges that manufactures marketed their “products not for what they really were—dangerous, addictive, and potentially deadly narcotic painkillers meant for short-term use to treat acute pain—but rather as safe, effective pain relievers that could be taken in perpetuity with little to no risk of addiction.” And, adds that sales representatives were then sent to doctor’s offices and other medical associations to “disseminate this lie.”

NATHAN: In total do we know how much the city is asking for in the lawsuit?

DOMINIQUE: The suit doesn’t specify the amount of damages it seeks, but it asks the court to force the companies to cover the city’s costs in dealing with the crisis. That’s in line with what the other states and cities that have filed suits have done.

We don’t know how much money exactly Baltimore city is suing for, but many cities and states like Baltimore report extenuating expenses for caring, treating, and burying those addicted to the drugs.

Baltimore’s Health Commissioner Doctor Leana Wen has worked for years to curb the tide of addiction in the city. In previous interviews Dr. Wen has told me that a Narcan kit, or the drug to reverse an opioid overdose, costs anywhere between $20 to $40 per person.

There are also additional costs for cities and states like supporting the children of those addicted and paying for paramedics, police, and city officials.

"If radio were a two-way visual medium," WYPR host Ashley Sterner would be able to see listeners every weekday between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Each weekday morning Ashley serves up the latest Maryland news and weather delightfully interspersed with the occasional snarky comment.

Listeners may also hear Ashley's familiar voice during the day as they guide listeners through what's known as continuity breaks until midday. Ashley is known to add audio flair on Sheilah Kast's morning show, "On the Record." They may also infrequently fill in for Tom Hall during the "Midday" radio program. They are a pitch hitter and often contributes to fundraising and "additional tasks where assigned."

When not working inside the WYPR studios, Ashley can be found teaching a class on how to produce audio documentaries for Towson University. In their spare time, they can be seen running around Baltimore neighborhoods or hiking around Maryland natural vistas.

Before coming to WYPR, Ashley spent 8 years with WAMU in Washington D.C. where they worked nearly every job in the radio station. That spanned from part-time receptionist to on-air host but also included experience in promotions, fundraising, audience analysis and program production. They've also served as a fundraising consultant, assisting dozens of public radio stations nationwide with on-air fundraisers.

Originally from rural Pennsylvania, Ashley has called Charm City home since 2005.
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