Commission votes down opioid lawsuit proposal

Published 5:17 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A proposal for Carter County to file a public nuisance lawsuit against the three major distributors of opioid pain medication failed to garner enough support to pass the County Commission on Monday.

During the early part of the Commission meeting on Monday, commissioners heard a proposal from attorney Tom Jessee regarding a lawsuit his firm is proposing. Jessee said so far 19 counties in the state have signed on to file suit.

The premise behind the litigation is to sue the three major distributors of opioid medication claiming they have created a public nuisance by contributing to the opioid epidemic due to their failure to follow federal guidelines on the tracking and reporting of opioid prescriptions.

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“The distributors were supposed to keep up with those pills, and they didn’t,” Jessee said.

Rather than filing the lawsuit at the state level, Jessee said he recommends each county file the lawsuit on their own to bring settlement money back to their community.

“It’s our belief that a local problem has to have a local solution,” Jessee said. “The nuisance is here.”

Jessee noted the three major distributors have already had to pay fines to the federal government for not following distribution regulations and he feels that makes a good case for local lawsuits to proceed.

When asked what sorts of repercussions could be felt in the local community if the lawsuit were to proceed, Jessee answered that those who have not been following the law when it comes to writing dispensing opioid prescriptions could find themselves in trouble.

“There will be blow back. There is no question there will be blow back for those who have been doing things they shouldn’t have,” Jessee said. “The good people who have done what they are supposed to do will be fine. I think there are some clinics that will be in trouble.”

Commissioner Randall Jenkins made a motion for the County to contract with Jessee and his firm to proceed with the lawsuit. Commissioner Nancy Brown provided the second for the motion.

When the votes were tallied, the motion fell one vote shy of passing. Those voting in favor of the lawsuit were Commissioners Brown, Mike Hill, Bradley Johnson, Ronnie Trivett, Ross Garland, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, Timothy Holdren, Jenkins, Ray Lyons, Scott Simerly, Kelly Collins, and Cody McQueen. Those opposing the lawsuit were Commissioners Willie Campbell, Buford Peters, Robert Acuff, Al Meehan, Charles VonCannon, Isaiah Grindstaff, L.C. Tester, John Lewis, Larry ‘Doc’ Miller, Sonja Culler, and Robert Carroll. Commissioner Danny Ward abstained from the vote.