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Lawmakers seek control over opioid settlement funds

Five members of the West Virginia House of Delegates want Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to reserve funds from a $37 million opioid settlement for substance abuse prevention and treatment.

In the letter dated July 29, the bipartisan group of delegates asked Morrisey to hold onto his office’s portion of the settlement long enough to allow legislators to use the money to combat the substance abuse epidemic in West Virginia. The attorney general’s office said Monday that they looked forward to working with the Legislature on the funds.

Delegate Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, chairman of the House Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse, signed the letter. He said Monday afternoon that he wants to see more state money going to programs targeting substance abuse prevention and preventative services.

“I feel strongly that the moneys recovered on behalf of the taxpayers in the state of West Virginia in regard to settlement from opioid litigation should go into helping us combat the opioid problem,” said Rohrbach, a physician. “I think the taxpayers expect nothing less.”

Morrisey announced a $37 million settlement with McKesson Corp. in May for the pharmaceutical company’s role in the state’s opioid epidemic.

After $4.85 million in attorneys’ fees is taken out, the money is being split three ways, among the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

This year, McKesson paid an initial $14.5 million to West Virginia. The attorneys’ fees were paid from that, and each of the three state agencies got $3.2 million.

Each year, from 2020 through 2024, McKesson will pay the state $4.5 million. The DHHR, DMAPS and the Attorney General’s Office will get $1.5 million from the settlement each of those years.

To-date, $3.2 million from the McKesson settlement has been approved to purchase body and X-ray scanners for regional jails and prisons in West Virginia.

“These funds must not be spent on administrative costs; they must be used to combat the drug epidemic that our state is facing due to the actions of the pharmaceutical companies who have caused this plague on our communities,” the delegates said the letter.

In addition to Rohrbach, Delegates Mark Dean, R-Mingo; Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette; Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell; and Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, signed the letter.

Last month, a federal judge ordered that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency opioid shipment data from 2006 to 2012 be made public, after HD Media, which owns the Gazette-Mail and the Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, and The Washington Post filed lawsuits to access the information.

The data showed drug companies shipped 76 billion pain pills throughout the country, during a time when the highest per capita death rates nationwide from opioids were in rural communities in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, The Post reported.

“The attorney general can hand out pamphlets at football games, and that’s all well and good, but what we need are effective, proven results and data-driven models of prevention, treatment, law enforcement and other measures,” Robinson said Monday. “I don’t think the attorney general has that power within his office to do it like the Legislature would be able to do.”

During a meeting with editors of The Charleston Gazette during his campaign in 2012, Morrisey said that, as attorney general, he would ensure that all settlement funds go into the state’s general revenue fund, to be appropriated by the governor and Legislature.

“We look forward to working with the Legislature and the Governor to return the monies from our record-breaking McKesson settlement to the state and ensure that these dollars are used to attack the drug epidemic holistically,” said Curtis Johnson, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. “We must attack this problem from a supply, demand and educational perspective, and address the many treatment and enforcement needs of our state.

“No state in the country has currently realized more settlement monies from wholesalers than West Virginia — $84 million to date. Our efforts, which include broad litigation within the pharmaceutical supply chain and against the DEA, are beginning to pay off, as prescribing for legal pain pills has declined 51 percent since 2013. Yet, our state must still do much more to stop senseless death in West Virginia.”

In May, Kessinger and Robinson sent a letter to Morrisey, asking that the Attorney General’s Office’s portion of the funds be deposited into the Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention and Recovery Fund. Lawmakers established the fund in 2017 to identify and meet the need for beds in substance abuse treatment centers throughout the state.

Earlier this year, the House passed House Bill 2991, which would have required that money received by Morrisey’s office from settlements reached with drug manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers be placed in the Ryan Brown Fund. The bill died before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reach Lacie Pierson at

lacie.pierson@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1723 or follow

@laciepierson on Twitter.

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