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July 25, 2017

Maine city considers joining legal fight against opioid makers

By Jake Bleiburg
Bangor Daily News

PORTLAND, Maine —The city is considering whether to join a growing legal push against the makers of prescription painkillers that have contributed to Maine's deadly opioid epidemic.

Next month, the Portland City Council will be briefed by the city attorney and discuss a potential lawsuit against companies that produce and distribute opioids.

The class of drug, which includes pharmaceuticals such as OxyContin as well as illegal narcotics such as fentanyl, was responsible for most of Maine's record 376 overdose deaths last year. One third of those overdoses were caused by prescription painkillers

The Aug. 2 conversation will happen behind closed doors in executive session and will be the first discussion of the matter with the full City Council, according to Mayor Ethan Strimling. It is not clear what legal groundwork the city has laid for such a suit and a city spokeswoman declined to elaborate on what is being considered.

Several city councilors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The mayor said he'd favor the city launching legal action or joining an already existing probe by a group of state attorneys general into the marketing and sales practices of drug companies that make opioid painkillers.

"I think it's a really important path for us to take a look at, to both recoup some money and stop [drug companies] marketing [opioid painkillers] as non-addictive," Strimling said.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said in June that she is working with other attorneys general to investigate drug manufacturers. In a statement, Mills, a Democrat who is running for governor, declined to identify specific targets of the probe and did not specify which states she is collaborating with.

Last year, 42 people died of an overdose in Portland and 38 of those were from opioids, according to a report from the state medical examiner.

In 2016, the the total number of overdose deaths throughout Maine rose 38 percent from the previous year. And, like the other service-center cities of Bangor and Lewiston, Portland has seen a disproportionate number of these drug deaths. While the city is estimated to have five percent of the state's population, 11 percent of Maine's overdose deaths were recorded here last year.

Last September, Portland Police Department began carrying the overdose reversing drug naloxone. Since then, they have administered it on 53 service calls, according to a city spokeswoman, while the Portland Fire Department has used it on 104 calls so far in 2017.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2017 Bangor Daily News