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Louisiana attorney general to take control of opioid lawsuit

February 20, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s attorney general will take charge of a state lawsuit against drug manufacturers, under a deal announced Tuesday that ends a dispute with the governor’s office over who controls litigation accusing the companies of worsening opioid abuse in Louisiana.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry said the lawsuit, initially filed through the state health department, will be broadened to more state agencies alleging damaging impacts from opioid use.

The two men issued a joint statement in which Edwards said “a coordinated effort from the state will produce the best results.”

“I am confident that the attorney general’s office will be able to pursue these claims vigorously and will hold the opioid manufacturers responsible for flooding our state with these highly addictive drugs and misleading the public about their addictive nature,” he said.

Before the announcement, the disagreement between the Democratic governor and Republican attorney general had worked its way into court, with a state district judge asked to decide which elected official should handle the litigation. Each side accused the other of playing politics with the lawsuit.

But on Tuesday, lawyers for Edwards and Landry notified Judge Wilson Fields that an agreement was struck — in a win for the attorney general.

“I thank the governor for putting his faith in our office’s leadership on this issue. We will work hard to hold drug companies accountable for contributing to the opioid abuse, misuse and addiction that have destroyed so many Louisiana families,” Landry said.

The deal was a rare compromise between the governor and attorney general, who have quarreled repeatedly since taking office in 2016, over finances, contracts and the limits of their jobs. Landry is seen as a possible challenger to Edwards in the 2019 election.

The Edwards administration filed the opioids lawsuit in September through the state health department against more than a dozen drug companies, accusing them of “an orchestrated campaign to flood Louisiana” with opioids to boost their profits. The lawsuit seeks damages for payments made through the Medicaid program for opioid prescriptions and for treatment costs tied to opioid abuse.

Landry wants to include opioids’ impacts on other agencies, such as increased costs to the state’s criminal justice and education systems and the impact on social services. He previously said the health department had no experience handling the type of complex litigation involved in suing a deep-pocketed industry.

Under the deal struck, Landry’s office will take lead responsibility in the case, coordinating with the Edwards administration. No settlement with the drug companies could be reached without both the attorney general and the governor’s administration in agreement.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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