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VOL. 133 | NO. 22 | Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Luttrell Slower to Move on Opioid Lawsuit

By Bill Dries

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An opioid epidemic lawsuit the county will bring against defendants still needs questions answered and a better focus, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”

County government’s suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors is still tentative, but likely, he said.

“The chances are pretty good we will,” Luttrell said. “The litigation has to be approached in a very delicate way to determine what’s the best way to approach it and who is the best group to go after. Do we go after the manufacturers? Do we go after the distributors? ... There’s a lot of questions that have to be answered.”

Meanwhile, a lawsuit against two dozen manufacturers and distributors of opioids filed in November by county commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer and later ratified by vote of the county commission is already pending in Circuit Court.

Circuit Court Judge Felicia Corbin-Johnson appears to have approved on Jan. 10 the administration’s motion to intervene with a court order.

Shafer has talked of an aggressive legal course, with the existing lawsuit to pay for programs the county might undertake to deal with the opioid epidemic.

“Those program are going to need to be funded from somebody and it needs to be funded from the people who are disregarding blatantly the rules of and the laws that are already out there,” Shafer said on Behind The Headlines the week before. “Everybody’s been looking the other way because there is so much money to be made … It’s a group that either intentionally or unintentionally functions like a drug cartel.”

Shafer says the lawsuit is urgent. Luttrell has said it is important, but will take time to work out details.

Luttrell and Shelby County Health Department director Dr. Alisa Haushalter talked about the lawsuit as part of a larger strategy that includes generating more awareness of this different type of drug epidemic in conjunction with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s $30 million opioid effort announced in Nashville last week.

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

“There’s really not any part of our county that is not impacted,” Haushalter said of a problem she described as an epidemic. “All of us go to health care providers. All of us receive prescriptions and all of us have access.”

What begins as a legitimate prescription for pain becomes addiction fed by prescriptions that may contain too many pills. In the last year, according to Haushalter, local hospital emergency rooms have seen 900 opioid overdoses. And more than 500 people have died in Shelby County from opioid overdoses over a four-year period.

The problem falls at “the intersection of public health and public safety,” Luttrell said.

“The cost is not the driving factor,” he said. “The paradox of this particular problem is, it is both a health problem and a safety problem. … One of my roles (as mayor) is to ensure that we are indeed looking at this epidemic from both sides.”

Haslam’s plan includes limiting certain prescriptions. Luttrell’s plan includes an awareness campaign that teaches those with prescriptions to keep track of opioid prescriptions once they are filled, keep them in a locked cabinet and dispose of any left over pills swiftly and appropriately.

“Some pills are really not taken that frequently,” Haushalter said. “Others are taken every four to six hours. So, it can really depend on what the actual medication is, but to limit the number of pills so that there are not extras.”

Haushalter said illegally manufactured opioids are beginning to become a factor in the epidemic as well.

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