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State, local prosecutors clash over opioids lawsuits


  NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee attorney general says lawsuits by local prosecutors over the opioid epidemic are complicating his efforts to reach a multistate settlement with drug companies. In response, the prosecutors, who represent about half of Tennessee's counties, say local communities lose out when lawsuits like theirs are rolled into one settlement.

In a letter last week, Attorney General Herbert Slatery told 14 Tennessee district attorneys general that their lawsuits impede his ability to prosecute, as his office leads a 40-state coalition investigating opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Slatery filed motions to intervene in the three Tennessee lawsuits, claiming legal issues with the cases, the role of local prosecutors and their use of outside attorneys.

"The Office of the Attorney General is in the best position both to represent the interests of the State and to obtain the best possible monetary recovery for key governmental stakeholders," Slatery wrote in the letter.

In a response letter Thursday, the district attorneys general wrote that Slatery is attempting to undermine their litigation, adding that they "understand the pressure that big pharma can bring to bear on organizations opposing their sales and marketing models."

They noted that a 2007 settlement of 26 states and Washington, D.C., against Purdue Pharma yielded $19.5 million, with Tennessee getting pennies on the dollar. Tennessee received $400,000 for attorneys' fees for the district attorney's office, $175,750 for the state general fund, and $143,750 for consumer education projects to fund further investigations or litigation at the attorney general's discretion.

"The results of this failed effort have been another decade lost to growing opioid fueled abuse, addiction, and death," the district attorneys general wrote about the 2007 settlement. "Our local communities have been devastated in this wake and we cannot, and we must not fail again."

The prosecutors wrote that they're depending on types of law that could cover additional damages, including policing, prosecutions, jails, hospital stays, rehabilitation centers, medical expenses, and educational services for those dependent on opioids, including babies born addicted.

Slatery's office said that by intervening in the three cases, he ensures the state's interests as a whole will be protected, while local prosecutors might only protect their judicial districts.

"Further, many of these issues may be eventually negotiated, and it is not practical to have 14 District Attorneys and the Attorney General represent the State's position," Slatery's office said in a statement. "Each state cannot bring 14 people to the table and expect to accomplish anything."