Shelby County Commission Slaps Down Mayor Mark Luttrell’s Attempt to Stop Opioid Abuse Lawsuit

On Wednesday the Shelby County Commission slapped down an attempt by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell to stop the opioid abuse lawsuit it filed last week, voting 8 to 0 “to immediately move forward in suing opioid manufacturers and distributors.”

“Why Mayor Luttrell would want to drag his feet for two years when Tennessee’s opioid prescription rate is the second highest in the United States is a mystery to me,” Shelby County Commission Chairwoman Heidi Shafer tells The Star in an exclusive interview.

“We have more prescriptions for opioids than we have people. Who benefits from that?” Shafer asks, adding:

Not the babies born addicted. Not the elderly who are routinely prescribed these addictive drugs and becoming hooked. Not the hospitals, schools, and law enforcment. Not the taxpayers!

“It looks like the Swamp does not exist only in Washington, D.C. It looks like we have a Swamp right here in Memphis,” Shafer says.

The commission’s vote “comes ahead of a Tuesday, Nov. 14, hearing in Chancery Court on county mayor Mark Luttrell’s lawsuit against Shafer. Luttrell claims Shafer violated the county charter by acting unilaterally to hire a law firm,” the Memphis Daily News reported:

Commissioner Terry Roland said the commission’s ratification vote should effectively void Luttrell’s lawsuit against Shafer.

Luttrell indicated Tuesday, Nov. 7, that if the commission passed the resolution, he would not necessarily sign it automatically. He could veto it, which would set the stage for the commission to consider a veto override.

Luttrell has 10 days from formally receiving the resolution to make his decision.

“We’ve been asking to meet with the administration to bring them on board to manage the lawsuit,” Shafer said after the vote. “We don’t wish to be in the position of managing the lawsuit.”

Luttrell did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. But county chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy said the administration, through the county attorney’s office, had been interviewing law firms to narrow the choices to represent the county. Shafer says the administration didn’t tell her or other commissioners about that even as the commission indicated it considered the problem to be urgent.

The Tennessee Star reported “The Shelby County Commission and Shelby County sued several pharmaceutical companies in Shelby County Circuit Court on Thursday, alleging illegal abuse in their manufacture, sale, and distribution of opioids.”

“It’s not just the drug companies. It’s also the distributors, including pharmacies and the doctors writing the prescription that are being sued,” Heidi Shafer, chairman of the Shelby County Commission tells The Tennessee Star in an exclusive interview.

“The lawsuit is very narrowly tailored only to go after those who are abusing,” Shafer adds.

“About 80 counties around the country are already suing the companies involved in opioid abuse,” Shafer says.

Last month, President Trump declared the epidemic of opioid addiction to be a public health emergency.

“President Donald J. Trump is mobilizing his entire Administration to address drug addiction and opioid abuse by directing the declaration of a Nationwide Public Health Emergency to address the opioids crisis,” the White House said in a statement released on October 26.

Mayor Luttrell’s attempt to stop the opioid abuse lawsuit filed by the Shelby County Commission on Thursday by suing Commission chairman Shafer individually baffles many in Shelby County.

“The dispute centers around whether the commission or the mayor calls the shots in a lawsuit to recoup the county’s mounting costs related to the nation’s opioid crisis. The administration is currently vetting attorneys for a lawsuit, possibly filed alongside the state, and settling on a legal strategy, Luttrell said,” the Commercial Appeal reported on Wednesday:

Luttrell argues that the charter gives him contracting authority, while Shafer argues that she, as chairwoman, can hire attorneys for commission initiatives and during emergencies. The mayor and the commission have clashed repeatedly over the years about the demarcations of their spheres of influence.

In an emotional exchange with Commissioner Walter Bailey, Commissioner Terry Roland said he attended five funerals in seven days because of opioid-related deaths.

“If that’s not an emergency, folks, I don’t know what is,” he said.

During public comments, Michelle Whitlock of Arlington said she had seen opioid addiction decimate various family members — including her father, sister and daughter. She’d nursed a heroin-addicted newborn and seen children neglected as their parent swerved in and out of rehab.

“How many of you have sat in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) and watched a baby withdraw?” she asked.

Mayor Luttrell’s Shelby County administration sued Commission Chairman Shafer “in both her personal and professional capacities, which the administration and Commissioner David Reaves said meant she was voting for a resolution personally benefiting herself. However, she said her decision was an official act, giving her legislative immunity and requiring the county to fund her defense,” the Commercial Appeal reported.

“Shelby County Chancellor Jim Kyle recommended that Shafer and the administration try to work out a compromise among themselves, although a hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Shafer said after the vote,” the Commercial Appeal noted.




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