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Morrisey declines to move $8 million to drug treatment fund

By ERIC EYRE

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey told lawmakers Monday that he won’t transfer his office’s $8 million share of a recent lawsuit settlement with prescription drug distributors to a special account set up to ensure the money goes to substance abuse treatment, prevention and enforcement.

Morrisey said he’s leaving the $8 million in his consumer protection account. He said it should be up to the Legislature to decide how to spend the settlement funds.

Former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has said he asked Morrisey to put the money in a separate trust fund so it could only be used to fight the state’s opioid epidemic.

“I didn’t view, not me, but our office didn’t view the money from that settlement should go anywhere other than the consumer protection account,” Morrisey told members of the House Finance Committee on Monday. “That’s been a longstanding policy of the office to have a legislative review.”

In January, drug wholesalers Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen agreed to pay the state a combined $36 million to settle a 2012 lawsuit that alleged the companies helped fuel West Virginia’s prescription drug problem. Outside lawyers representing the state received $12 million from the settlement. Morrisey’s office, the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), along with the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS), each got $8 million.

DHHR and DMAPS have placed their respective shares in a special account at the State Auditor’s office. Last week, the two agencies announced plans to set up a grant program to distribute the funds for drug treatment and enforcement.

Morrisey’s $8 million share of the settlement will more than double the $6.3 million already banked in his consumer protection fund.

 The Legislature could sweep the $8 million from the attorney general’s account to help plug the state’s projected $500 million budget shortfall. Lawmakers have no say over the special account at the Auditor’s office.

Morrisey said he’s keeping a campaign promise to let the Legislature spend any settlement funds as it sees fit. The settlement agreement with the drug companies stipulated that Morrisey’s share would go into his office’s consumer fund.

“We put it in the consumer protection so you can decide what’s appropriate,” Morrisey told House members. “I’m not going to just direct the money as I see fit. I bring resources back in the consumer protection division for review by you, the Legislature.”

Morrisey said he hoped state lawmakers would leave some of the $8 million in his consumer protection fund, while also allocating some funds to “fight substance abuse.”

“Treatment has to be part of the solution,” Morrisey said.

In recent weeks, cities and counties across the state have filed their own lawsuits against prescription drug distributors. Morrisey said the state’s settlement did not bar the cities and counties from suing the drug companies, which contend otherwise.

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