Bipartisan coalition of lawmakers urges responsible use of drug settlement funds

Monday morning, five lawmakers formed a bipartisan coalition urging West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to hold the tens of millions of dollars in funds to be received by his office, from the recent McKesson Corporation drug settlement, so they may be used toward combatting West Virginia’s addiction epidemic.

In a letter sent to Morrisey Monday—the second of its kind following a nearly identical letter sent in May of this year by Delegate Kayla Kessinger (R- Fayette, 32) and Delegate Andrew Robinson (D- Kanawha, 36)—Delegates Kessinger, Robinson, Mark Dean (R- Mingo, 21), Chad Lovejoy (D- Cabell, 17) and Matthew Rohrbach (R- Cabell, 17) urged Morrisey to allow the state legislature to appropriate all the state’s settlement funds to be used for addiction prevention and treatment throughout the state.

In a recent opinion piece published in The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Morrisey’s office said $84 million has been received by West Virginia from drug settlements. Meanwhile, the American Enterprise Institute estimates the addiction epidemic has likely cost the state around $8.8 billion each year.

“These funds must not be spent on administrative costs,” Monday’s letter reads. “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.”

Recently released data revealed Delegate Dean’s district, which includes parts of McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming Counties, had more than 38 million prescription pain pills shipped into one county, Mingo, from 2006 to 2012. According to an article published July 20 this year in The Beckley Register-Herald, only two counties in the United States, one in South Carolina and one in Kansas, were distributed more pain pills per capita than Mingo County during that period.

“The repercussions from those deliveries are felt everyday by my constituents,” Dean said. “The settlement monies received by our state from those who made these deliveries should be dedicated to helping our communities recover.”

Delegate Rohrbach and Delegate Lovejoy, of District 17, including parts of Cabell County and Wayne County, each have seen many of their constituents directly impacted by the addiction epidemic as well.

“Huntington has been considered ‘Ground Zero’ of the drug epidemic,” Rohrbach, chairman of the House’s Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse, said. “If we ensure funds that are received as a direct result of the drug epidemic are dedicated to prevention and recovery, we will also be able to move past this epidemic and regain control of our communities.”

Rohrbach said while the state has taken significant steps in recent years toward combatting addiction, there is still more that may be done, and officials should be open-minded when considering various strategies aimed at doing so.

“It’s crucial that we have every tool available to continue to combat this horrible epidemic,” he said. “It’s my hope we can continue creating new, innovative programs that will not only help people break the cycle of addiction, but prevent them from falling into it in the first place.”

Lovejoy encouraged Morrisey to consider the work and wellbeing of first responders impacted by the addiction epidemic in West Virginia.

“West Virginia’s first responders have been on the front lines of the drug epidemic— fighting overdoses, criminal activity and even risking personal injury in this battle,” Lovejoy said. “My hope is that our Attorney General takes our first responders into account and ensures these settlement funds are used to help them as they combat the drug scourge in our neighborhoods.”

Delegate Robinson said seriously combatting West Virginia’s addiction epidemic will require significantly more attention, effort and responsibility on behalf of state officials.

“We can brag about ‘turning the tide’ on addiction, but that is simply not the truth. Addiction has infiltrated every part of our state,” Robinson said. “Letting millions of dollars be spent on administrative costs is simply irresponsible. We urge the Attorney General to reserve every penny of these settlements, so we can truly offer opportunities for recovery to our constituents.”

The Attorney General’s office is set to receive approximately $3.2 million from McKesson Corporation for the first installment of the recent settlement, with an additional $1.5 million to be received each year from 2020 to 2024.

Earlier this year, during West Virginia’s regular legislative session, a bill that would have required all funds received by the Attorney General from drug settlements be placed in the Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention and Recovery Fund was considered but did not pass both chambers.

House Bill 2991 passed the House of Delegates with overwhelming bipartisan support but failed to pass the Senate before the end of the session.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected].