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Clock ticking for West Virginia to select leadership for opioid money distribution

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia is finalizing the leadership for a newly created foundation tasked with distributing the lion’s share of the more than $1 billion in opioid lawsuit-settlement money coming to the state with the nation’s highest overdose death rate.

That means funding for opioid treatment and addiction services can soon begin going out to communities after years of litigation, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Monday in his state Capitol office in Charleston.

“We feel this process has been moving along,” Morrisey said. “It’s a lot of money, and I want to make sure the public knows full well what’s happening with it.”

Morrisey said the state has hired the Arlington, Virginia-based search firm DRiWaterstone Human Capital to find an executive director for the West Virginia First Foundation, the private non-profit that will distribute just under three quarters of the money. About a quarter will go directly to counties and a small percentage — around 3% — will be held in trust.

The West Virginia First Foundation was recognized by the state Legislature by unanimously supported legislation signed by Gov. Jim Justice in March. The foundation will be governed by an 11-member board of directors, which must be selected by July 17 — 60 days after filing the foundation’s articles of incorporation with West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.

Six board members will be elected by local governments to represent six regions of the state. The other five positions must be appointed by Justice and confirmed by the state Senate.

Over the past four years, drug manufacturers, distribution companies, pharmacies and other companies with roles in the opioid business have reached settlements totaling more than $50 billion with governments.

While the biggest amounts are in nationwide settlements, West Virginia – perhaps the state hardest hit by the prescription drug overdose crisis – has been aggressive in bringing its own lawsuits and reaching more than a dozen settlements.

In May, Morrisey announced that the state had settled with Kroger for $68 million over its role in distributing highly addictive prescription painkillers West Virginia. Kroger was the last remaining defendant in a lawsuit involving Walgreens, Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid. The state had been scheduled to go to trial Kroger this month.

Walgreens settled in January for $83 million. Walmart and CVS settled with the state last September: Walmart agreed to a settlement of $65,070,000; CVS for $82.5 million.

Last August, Rite Aid settled for up to $30 million to resolve similar litigation. The lawsuits allege the pharmacies’ contribution to the oversupply of prescription opioids in the state have caused “significant losses through their past and ongoing medical treatment costs, including for minors born addicted to opioids, rehabilitation costs, naloxone costs, medical examiner expenses, self-funded state insurance costs and other forms of losses to address opioid-related afflictions and loss of lives.”

Officials in most of the six regions established by the foundation have already scheduled dates to elect board representatives, Morrisey said. Southern West Virginia officials will meet at the Raleigh County Courthouse at 1 p.m. on July 5; local governments in the eastern panhandle will convene in Berkeley County and in central West Virginia’s Kanawha County on July 12; northern West Virginia officials are meeting in Monongalia County on July 13.

Meetings will also be held in Ohio County for local officials representing the northern panhandle and Wood County for those in northwestern West Virginia.

“We want to make sure the public knows about this process,” Morrisey said, adding that anyone is eligible to be nominated and participate.

DRiWaterstone Human Capital will be paid around $66,500 for 30 to 60 days of work to identify candidates to serve as executive director and run the day-to-day operations of the foundation.

Settlement funds must be put to use to abate the opioid epidemic. The attorney general and counsel for West Virginia cities and counties developed and adopted a memorandum of understanding that provides guidelines on how the funds may be used.

Opioid funds must be used in a manner consistent with the memorandum’s definition of an “approved purpose,” which includes evidence-based treatment strategies for substance use disorders or addiction, substance use prevention strategies, law enforcement efforts to curtail drug distribution, supporting addiction recovery programs, or decreasing the oversupply of licit and illicit opioids.

Leah Willingham, The Associated Press


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