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Opioid lawsuit coming to a close, county expecting settlement funds

County Lawyer Perry Stout explains the opioid lawsuit update during the June 28 public budget hearing. Commissioners suspended the session rules to approve the DA team’s actions unanimously. Photo by Meg Dickens.

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

In December of 2020, Johnson County officially added its name to the Drug Dealer Liability Act lawsuit after District Attorney General Ken Baldwin brought the case to the county commission. This case has been in the works for several years but is coming to an end. After district attorneys overcame the hiccup related to the Supreme Court ruling saying they could not sue on behalf of the “ravage areas” unless signed off on, the three lawyer team officially pushed the third and final defendant company into bankruptcy.

The plaintiff counties were required to sign off on whether the final company, Purdue Pharma, could file for bankruptcy, but the decision timeline was inconvenient for local officials. The information arrived after the last county commission meeting, and the answer needed to be back before the next session. The commissioners suspended the rules to unanimously allow the DAs to move forward during the Monday, June 28 public hearing concerning the 2021-2022 budget.

According to County Attorney Perry Stout, the DAs suggested doing so because the settlement money would be more than if they refused. All settlement money goes directly back into the nine counties involved. At the time of this article, officials are unsure how much money Johnson County will receive. The official numbers should be in closer to the
final proceedings.

For those that need a reminder, the lawsuit revolves around drug companies “deceptively and aggressively” marketing opioids, creating an oversupply in East Tennessee, which they “knew were being distributed without a prescription, which made them illegal drugs.” According to DA Baldwin’s original presentation, 95 percent of crime prosecuted in the Johnson County area is from addicts, and Johnson County Sheriff Eddie Tester confirmed.

“As director of the A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition, we have been following the lawsuit brought against the pharmaceutical industry and are very proud of our community leaders and our county commission for the decision to take a stance in support of this lawsuit,” commented Director Trish Burchette after Johnson County initially joined the lawsuit. “This will go a long way in repairing the damage drug use from opioids have caused in small rural communities like ours.”

For more information on the Johnson County government, visit johnsoncountytn.gov.