'We are losing a small town a year': Opioid crisis continues to take a toll as state weighs how to spend settlement funds
Kentucky lawmakers heard an update on how the state will be managing its $840 million portion of a multi-billion dollar settlement with opioid makers.
The funds are part of a settlement with Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson. Half of the dollars will head to local governments, while the other half is being handed out in the form of grants by the state.
Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission Chair Bryan Hubbard told lawmakers a series of town halls held across the state reinforced just how desperately the funds are needed.
"In our town hall meetings, it is very clear that Kentuckians wish for those of us who hold public trust to understand the depth and just the immense dimension of pain that exists in the state, that has been produced by this epidemic," he testified. "We are losing a small town a year and have been for at least a decade."
Hubbard is heading up the commission that will meet twice a year to approve awards from the settlement funds. But critics have raised red flags about a lack of guidelines for handing out those dollars, saying the state needs a more thorough system to track the effectiveness of the grants.
Gov. Andy Beshear was asked about that issue during his Thursday briefing.
"It is a great concern that they have taken all of these applications without giving organizations... the scoring criteria that will be used," the governor responded. "So I hope that we'll see some major changes. This isn't about me or anybody else in office. This is about wanting to make sure that this money, which is blood money, is used the right way, is used the smart way."
Kentucky’s share of the settlement dollars will be spread out over the next 18 years.
To the average person, $840 million might sound like a more-than-generous sum when it comes to aiding Kentucky’s efforts to combat the opioid addiction crisis.
And while the amount is sizable, Hubbard told lawmakers it’s only a fraction of the profits opioid makers raked in on drugs that have devastated Kentucky communities.
"When we consider the fact that Purdue Pharma cleared $100 million dollars a month for years on the sale of Oxycontine, this state is going to receive — over 18 years — what that company, which created this problem, cleared in just a little over eight months," he said. "What we really have here, while substantial and while very much needed, is but a drop in the bucket compared to the overall scope of this problem."
Kentucky’s portion is part of a much larger $26 billion national settlement.