Portland opioid lawsuit leads Mercy Hospital to quit addiction partnership

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PORTLAND — While not part of a larger effort for the time being, Mercy Hospital is promising to continue to fight opioid misuse and help people recover from substance use disorders.

Hospital spokesman Ed Gilman on May 18 said Mercy is stepping away from the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative, an endeavor the hospital helped establish two years ago.

“This is done with a heavy heart, as Mercy has worked tirelessly to convene, lead, and grow the collaborative to what it is today,” Gilman said in a statement.

The move was made because of a lawsuit filed in Cumberland County Superior Court by the city of Portland against pharmaceutical companies and physicians in an effort to recover money spent combating the effects of the opioid crisis.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said there would be no response to Mercy’s decision.

Leaving the collaborative that brings together the city, its police, and area recovery advocates is part of a larger move by Eastern Maine Health Systems to step back from collaborations in cities that have filed such suits.

EMHS spokesman Chris Facchini said stepping back was needed because local physicians have been named in suits in Portland and Bangor.

“By suing individual physicians, these cities and counties have essentially named EMHS and any member organization that employed these physicians in the opioid lawsuit,” he said in a May 17 press release.

A Feb. 14, 2017, memo to the City Council Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee notes Mercy had pledged $400,000 to the collaboration, which has also unsuccessfully sought federal grants.

The intent of the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative is to coordinate care and access to recovery services that can begin with patients being discharged from hospitals. 

Mercy, Maine Health and Greater Portland Health would also provide counseling and medically assisted treatments such as methodone or suboxone for opioid users.

The collaborative also sought to create at least 48 beds in structured living environments for people in recovery to get peer support and employment services.

“While we recognize that the terrible opioid abuse epidemic will require strong community partnerships, we have no choice but to withdraw from initiatives where participants include cities and counties that are suing us,” Facchini said.

Mercy already operates the McAuley Residence on High Street, with 15 housing units for women in recovery from any substance use disorder.

Gilman said other hospital efforts will remain unchanged as well.

“Our work to expand the model of Mercy’s successful McAuley Residence program will move forward,” he said. “Rapid access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) through our emergency department is unaffected.”

Working with the Auburn law firm Trafton, Matzen, Belleau and Frenette, and Napoli Shkolnick of New York, the city suit alleges a pattern of fraud, negligence and negligent marketing allowed Purdue Pharma, Teva, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Endo, Actavis, Insys, Mallinckrodt and Janssen and their associated companies to receive unjust enrichment and create a public nuisance because of addictions to prescription pain medications.

Also named are Drs. Douglas J. Jorgensen, Mark E. Cieniawski, Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster for their roles in allegedly over-prescribing or promoting overuse of opioid pain medications.

“We are also disappointed that the cities and counties are jeopardizing the financial well-being of their local hospitals by suing them for $1 billion,” Facchini said. “Nevertheless, we will continue working on our own initiatives to address this serious public health threat.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.