The Washington County commission on Wednesday approved a resolution approving an undisclosed settlement in an ongoing lawsuit against parties suspected of being involved in facilitating opioid abuse and addiction in the region.
The resolution directs 1st Judicial District Attorney General Ken Baldwin and lawyers at the Knoxville law firm of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings to negotiate on behalf of the county to achieve the “best compatible terms” with a confidential settlement proposal that the commissioners heard for 40 minutes. in camera with legal counsel.
Other local governments involved in the state’s lawsuit also met this week to consider similar settlement agreements.
Meanwhile, jury selection is scheduled to begin Thursday for the damages trial in the alleged “Sullivan Baby Doe” trial.
The Washington County action came just hours after Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery joined his counterparts in six other states to announce a $ 26 billion deal in an independent federal lawsuit. by state and local governments against the country’s three largest drug distribution companies and a major opioid manufacturer.
Tennessee is expected to receive $ 600 million from this deal. Slatery said the settlement is a “huge amount, and the second largest in the history of this country.”
State officials have said the deal, which covers more than 300,000 local plaintiffs in several states, will also result in Johnson & Johnson’s production of opioids being stopped.
âToday is a good day and we are ready to move forward,â Slatery said. He also noted that opioid overdose deaths increased by 44% in 2020, adding that “the urgency of this problem persists.”
Slatery said Tennessee should receive a large chunk of the opioid settlement if the state “meets all the criteria” set out in the agreement. He said the state’s General Assembly has already put in place a “structure” to ensure that settlement funds are spent on drug control programs.
âWe’re not at the finish line yet, but we’re getting there,â Slatery said.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said that unlike the record-breaking tobacco deals of the 1990s, the opioid deal specifies that recipients use “a large portion” of the funds for anti-tobacco resources. Drugs.
âIt fundamentally changes the pharmaceutical industry,â said Stein.
Washington County commissioners met on Wednesday in what was called an “emergency” session under board rules to “consider a settlement of an ongoing dispute.” The state’s Sunshine Law requiring boards of directors to hold all meetings in public view has an exception that allows these bodies to meet behind closed doors with their attorneys to discuss the details of pending litigation.
The state litigation was filed in Sullivan County by local prosecutors in 2017 against drugmakers for their alleged roles in an “opioid epidemic” under state liability law. drug dealers.
The lawsuit, which is separate from the opioid litigation filed in federal court, seeks to compensate Washington and other plaintiff counties in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd judicial districts for the hardships created by the opioid epidemic.
The complaint originally listed opioid prescription drug maker Purdue Pharma, LP and its related companies, as well as Mallinckrodt PLC, Endo Pharmaceuticals as defendants.
Purdue and Mallinckrodt have since declared bankruptcy, and claims have been brought against them in these courts. Endo remains the only active corporate defendant listed in the original lawsuit.
Sullivan County Chancellor EG Moody issued a ruling in April granting default judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The ruling imposed penalties on defendant Endo Health Solutions Inc. and Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., but reserved a final judgment pending the damages trial which is due to begin on Monday.