SEVIERVILLE — Sevier County Commission voted Monday to move ahead with a lawsuit that tags major pharmaceutical companies as drug dealers and seeks compensation for the damage they have caused.
District attorneys throughout the state joined in 2017 to file civil suits that used the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act to target pharmaceutical manufacturers like Purdue Pharma.
The lawsuits, filed in Campbell County, say the companies were marketing prescription painkillers to vulnerable patients and continuing to do so after those patients became addicted.
They have been called “Baby Doe” lawsuits, because they are filed on behalf of infants harmed by their mothers’ drug use during pregnancy.
District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn represents the Fourth District, which includes all of Sevier County. He filed a suit representing all the county and city governments in his jurisdiction.
Arguments arose from that case over whether the D.A.s had standing to file the suit, and whether the act applied to the drug companies. They advanced to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
“The judge down in Campbell County said ‘no, they’re not drug dealers,’ so it was appealed to the Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals said ‘yes, they are, they are drug dealers and can be sued as such,’ ” Dunn told county commission Monday.
In a ruling last December, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the act applied to the drug companies.
“The drug companies allegedly manufactured and distributed highly addictive opioids in quantities too large to be medically justified,” the court found.
However, it found the district attorneys didn’t have standing to file the suit.
County governments do have that authority, they said, and so Dunn asked the county to become the plaintiff in the case.
After his presentation, the commission approved the measure without further discussion.
Also Monday, the county commission:
• Approved an update to the Sevier County International Building Code
• Rezoned property at 2626 Boyds Creek Road from general commercial to high-density residential use
• Rezoned property at 309 Hattie Branch Road from agricultural to rural commercial use
• Rezoned property at 245 Hattie Branch Road from agricultural to rural commercial use
• Rezoned property at 865 Wade Road from rural residential to rural commercial use
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