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WV lawmakers seek control of drug settlement funds


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers want the final say over how to spend $24 million from recent lawsuit settlements with some of the nation’s largest prescription drug distributors.

The House of Delegates plans to take a final vote this week on a bill (HB 2428) that would use all of the settlement proceeds to provide 600 extra beds at private drug treatment facilities across the state.

A separate bill (HB 3028) — passed by the full House Monday — would take a portion of the funds and add 100 beds for recovering addicts in West Virginia by July 2018

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office, the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) each received $8 million from a settlement with drug wholesalers Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. Morrisey put his share in his office’s consumer protection account. DHHR and DMAPS placed their settlement monies in a special account at the State Auditor’s office.

Earlier this month, those two agencies announced plans to set up a grant program to distribute the money for drug treatment, prevention and enforcement measures. The agencies were putting the finishing touches on grant application procedures.

The House bills would seemingly block the grant program and leave it up to the Legislature to decide how the money gets spent.

HB 3028 includes a section that makes clear that only state lawmakers — not DHHR or DMAPS — can allocate the settlement funds.

“That’s designed to assert the Legislature’s constitutional authority to appropriate money,” said House spokesman Jared Hunt.

DHHR officials said they’re still reviewing the ramifications of that section of the bill. A Boone County Circuit Court order stipulated that the agencies would control the funds.

“We’re evaluating [the bill’s language] to see if it will allow for flexibility, timeliness and appropriateness in responding to requests from communities during this time of epidemic,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, the state’s public health commissioner. “We need to address the problems where they exist and to the extent they exist. Nobody wants to put beds where they’re not needed.”

A third bill (HB 3062) would require Morrisey’s office to transfer settlement monies into the state general revenue fund every three months whenever his consumer protection fund exceeds $6 million. A previous version of the bill required the automatic deposits when Morrisey’s account topped $4 million. House members are expected to take a final vote on that legislation Wednesday.

A Morrisey spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The drug settlements resolve allegations that the distributors failed to detect, report and stop the flood of suspicious prescription drug orders into the state. The companies denied any wrongdoing.

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