A Cumberland County judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by Northern Light Health hospitals against pharmaceutical companies for their role perpetuating the opioid crisis.

Business and Consumer Court Judge Michael Duddy ruled in favor of dismissal, saying Northern Light Health was not directly damaged by opioid manufacturers and sales representatives. Northern Light Health is Maine’s second largest health care network and operates Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Mercy Hospital in Portland and seven other hospitals in the state.

“None of the plaintiffs’ claimed injuries are distinguishable from those theoretically endured by other institutions in Maine that serve the public welfare, such as first responders, or individuals who do business with or care for opioid-affected persons, such as landlords and family members,” Duddy wrote. “Finally, the plaintiffs’ claimed injuries are derivative of harms suffered by third parties – their patients, who are members of the public.”

Duddy wrote that while the opioid crisis is a major societal problem, Northern Light Health did not make the case that it was directly harmed by the drug companies. Among those listed as defendants in the 2021 lawsuit were Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Watson Laboratories, Actavis Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals, as well as pharmacy chains CVS, Rite Aid of Maine, Eckerd Corp., and Walmart.

The suit accused the companies of negligence, fraud and negligent misrepresentation, and civil conspiracy. The defendants used unfair and misleading marketing to convince doctors and patients that opioids could safely be prescribed for chronic pain and then conspired to drive up demand for prescription opioids, which in turn made them widely available, the lawsuit said.

“The court acknowledges the devastation associated with the opioid crisis,” Duddy wrote. “This devastation is especially pronounced in the state of Maine.”


Maine has been struggling to contain the crisis for decades, while the specific opioids driving addictions and overdoses have changed over time as availability and access shifted.

Overdose deaths in Maine set a record for the third straight year in 2022, claiming an estimated 716 lives. Most of those people were killed by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller that is highly potent and can be mixed in with other drugs, including heroin. The toll would have been significantly higher if not for improved access to the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, which was administered more than 2,000 times in Maine over the past year.


Suzanne Spruce, senior vice president and chief marketing and communication officer for Northern Light Health, said in a statement that “although we respect the court’s ruling, we disagree with it and are evaluating next steps.”

But Duddy wrote that Northern Light Health failed to prove that because its patients were damaged by the opioid crisis, that the hospital system itself was harmed by the pharmaceutical companies.

“The court may dismiss a claim if the plaintiff’s allegations amount to mere speculation or conjecture,” Duddy ruled. “Those are the circumstances here.”


Northern Light Health’s lawsuit is one of a number of similar lawsuits in recent years going after the pharmaceutical industry for its role in advancing the opioid crisis.

Many people fell into opioid use disorder after being overprescribed the medication despite a lack of evidence that opioids effectively treat chronic pain. Hospital systems elsewhere in the country – including in Dallas and Tucson, Arizona – also have filed lawsuits in recent years against drug companies.

Separately, the Maine Office of the Attorney General announced in January 2022 that Maine had signed onto a national opioid settlement with drug companies for harm caused by opioids. As a result, Maine is receiving $130 million over an 18-year period to help alleviate the crisis.

That money will be used primarily to expand treatment and prevention efforts at the state and local levels. Some of the money will be shared with municipalities, counties and school districts across the state.

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