Community leaders hear pitch for drug treatment center using Baby Doe settlement dollars

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JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – $21 million of the $35 million settlement in the Baby Doe opioid lawsuit could be used to create a drug treatment facility for nine counties across the Tri-Cities region.

Leaders from municipalities and law enforcement agencies across Sullivan, Washington, Carter, Johnson, Unicoi, Greene, Hamblin, Hancock and Hawkins County heard a proposal for the treatment center from Tennessee First District Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street.

Those localities are free to use that money as they wish, but Street urged them to use it to combat the opioid crisis. He planned to do that by keeping drug offenders out of jail and in treatment.

The facility would cover that nine-county area in Northeast Tennessee, making up the areas included as plaintiffs alongside Baby Doe in the opioid lawsuit.

The proposal included the use of an extended-stay drug treatment center that would aim to rehabilitate non-violent drug offenders and prepare them for re-entry into society.

“They come out of jail, not back into the same situation that they were, and they go into a facility that’s in-patient,” Street said. “It’s not a 28 day dry out program. It’s 9 to 12 months of intensive therapy.”

Those admitted would undergo addiction treatment and use vocational programs to train for jobs post-stay. Street said if the facility receives funding, it could become the standard for drug treatment in Tennessee.

“We don’t have time or the resources for a shotgun approach,” Street said. “We need a laser-focused, Barrett .50 caliber bullet to set up a program that could be the flagship program for the state of Tennessee.”

Street’s proposal included using the now-closed Northeast Correctional Complex to house more than 150 drug addicts during their recovery. He said failed drug tests or attempts to bring drugs in the facility would result in patients being sent back to jail.

Treatment would be abstinence-based and would not use drug-based treatments like methadone.

The $21 million dollars alone would not be enough to fund the facility. Street said the facility would require federal and state money, but the support of nine counties and several cities could get the ball rolling.

“You can’t fund something like this, but this is a darn good start,” Street said.

The funding comes from the Baby Doe opioid lawsuit started in 2017 and settled in July of this year. Plaintiffs Baby Doe and municipalities represented by each of the three district attorneys in Northeast Tennessee settled for $35 million with Endo Pharmaceuticals, an opioid manufacturer.

$14 million went to Baby Doe for damages and legal fees. The rest went to the municipalities to cover some of the damages wrought by the opioid epidemic.

Previous defendants Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt are now bankrupt and off the lawsuit.

First District Attorney Kenneth Baldwin said the case represented much more than Baby Doe.

“It is representing those people who were impacted – the children. But also impacted were many, many adults, many juveniles who became addicted to opioids,” Baldwin said.

The opioid crisis, Baldwin said, was caused by drug companies coercing doctors into prescribing more of the addictive pills, causing substantial damage to communities.

“The drug companies convinced doctors that they were not addictive and that they should be used for long-term chronic pain,” Baldwin said. “Good people became addicted and good people were impacted. It destroyed lives.”

The decision on what to do with the $21 million is now up to the plaintiffs. Street urged leaders in attendance to speak with their respective legislative bodies about the treatment center.

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