Fight over control of Louisiana opioid lawsuit goes to judge
By MELINDA DESLATTE
Jan. 18, 2018
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Unable to reach agreement on their own, lawyers for Louisiana's Democratic governor and Republican attorney general are heading to court Friday so a judge can decide who will handle the state's lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
Both Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry support litigation accusing pharmaceutical companies of worsening opioid abuse in Louisiana. They disagree over who should control it.
The Edwards administration filed a lawsuit in September through the state health department against more than a dozen drug companies. In October, Landry's office filed a motion seeking to take charge of it, so the lawsuit can be expanded to cover more agencies.
Efforts to negotiate an agreement for how to advance the litigation failed. A court hearing is scheduled Friday before Judge Wilson Fields in the disagreement over who should be in charge of the lawsuit.
The dispute is the latest in a string of clashes between Edwards and Landry since the two statewide elected officials took office in 2016. Landry is seen as a possible challenger to Edwards in the 2019 election. The opioid lawsuit is shaping up as another quarrel over the constitutional authority of each man's office.
The health department's lawsuit accuses the companies of "an orchestrated campaign to flood Louisiana with highly-addictive and dangerous opioids" to boost their profits. The lawsuit seeks damages for payments made through the Medicaid program for what it describes as excessive opioid prescriptions and for treatment costs tied to opioid abuse.
Landry's office says the lawsuit should include broader allegations, such as increased costs to the state's criminal justice and education systems, the impact on social services and the loss of workforce productivity.
The Edwards administration has said it agrees with adding more agencies to the claims, but doesn't believe Landry's office is constitutionally empowered to take over the case. Landry's office says the governor is ignoring the balance of power in the Louisiana Constitution.
"This is a matter of litigation. As such, it is properly within the purview of the chief legal officer, and consistent with the constitution's clear and express authority for him to do so, the attorney general must be permitted to supersede," Landry's office wrote in court documents.
Similar lawsuits have been filed by city, county and state agencies around the country amid a national overdose crisis that has killed thousands each year. Louisiana averages more opioid prescriptions than it has residents.
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