Shelby County Mayor Files Lawsuit Over Commission Chairman's Opioid Lawsuit

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - The Shelby County Mayor is suing the County Commission Chairman over who has the authority to legally challenge big pharma in the opioid epidemic. 

Mayor Mark Luttrell argues Chairman Heidi Shafer went against county rules when she brought on outside attorneys in a lawsuit last week against pharmaceutical giants, pharmacy companies, and medical clinics. Shafer told Local 24 the county charter in fact gives her that right, and a judge heard both sides late Tuesday afternoon.

The judge delayed a decision until next Tuesday so both sides could provide more information.

This comes as Shelby County leaders dispute how to, and who should, take on the opioid epidemic - a struggle that's become increasingly political and personal.

"It's messy and it's confusing and it could have been avoided,” says Mayor Luttrell. “It angers me, it frustrates me, it diverts me from the process of trying to solve this problem.”

Luttrell didn't hold back his emotions when he announced a lawsuit pitting the county against Shafer.

"It's essentially been a unilateral action on behalf of the chairman,” says Luttrell.

The lawsuit filed Monday claimed Shafer went against the county charter in a commission-led lawsuit last week against big pharma, and did it without Luttrell's knowledge.

"I believe under section 2.02 I do have the authority and it's been exercised by other chairmen in the past,” says Shafer. “This isn't a dictatorship, it's not a prison, this is a democracy.”

The original suit, filed last Thursday, argues “defendants put their desire for profits above the health and well-being of Shelby County consumers at the cost of the plaintiff.”

"We've been waiting over two years for something to move and nothing was happening,” says Shafer. “There are more opioid prescriptions in Tennessee than there are men women and children in this state.”

"I would take issue with anyone who says that we have done nothing,” says Luttrell. “If it were simple it would have been solved two years ago by everybody concerned, but it's not that simple.”

Mayor Luttrell argued he's been working on an opioid plan with other county leaders for months, and argued last week's lawsuit seriously hampered those efforts moving forward.

"I think there has been a serious, serious breach in our ability to resolve this in a way that's constructive to the victims,” says Luttrell. “It has complicated county initiatives to move forward."

“We think it's a solid plan to change the environment and stop these industries from operating like a drug cartel,” says Shafer.

The full Shelby County Commission is set to vote Wednesday on whether all commissioners support last week's opioid lawsuit. If that resolution gets seven votes, the county Mayor could veto that decision, and eight commissioners would be needed to override that veto.

Shelby County set new record highs for overdose deaths involving heroin and opioids five straight years, including 197 in 2016.

 


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