CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As anticipated settlements to a range of lawsuits over the opioid crises start to take shape, plaintiffs in West Virginia who filed the suits now have a framework in place for how settlement money will be distributed.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Wednesday unveiled a “memorandum of understanding” between the state of West Virginia, 54 West Virginia counties who have pending litigation against opioid companies, and a number of West Virginia cities and towns who also have legal action pending.
“We have an agreement among the representatives of the cities, counties, and state with respect to our West Virginia First program which is going to be a structure for how opioid money would be managed, distributed, and allocated in West Virginia,” Morrisey said in a press conference in Charleston.
The Attorney General added it had taken several months and a lot of meetings between his staff and representatives of the governmental bodies to reach the agreement. The arrangement will still need the approval of each of the County Commissions or city councils for those who are part of the agreement. The Legislature and Governor’s office will also be asked to come on board with the arrangement.
“The reason why this is so important, if you look at any of the settlements out there, the one key piece that’s ordered is there has to be an agreed upon mechanism between the state, cities, and counties to actually lay out how the money is going to get spent. That’s what this represents. No money can flow without an agreement,” the Attorney General added.
The plan called for creation of a foundation which would oversee the distribution of settlement or judgment funds. The agreed to formula would put 72.5 percent of any settlement or judgement to the foundation. Meanwhile, 24.5 percent of settlement and judgment dollars will be allocated to local governments and 3 percent will be held in escrow by the state. Morrisey said it’s critical to note all funds must be directed toward opioid abatement.
“The goal is to make sure we’re using existing resources the right way and we’re using evidence based practices that are proven to be effective and focus on the needs of each region,” he explained.
The state would be broken into six regions for the distribution. Morrisey also noted the needs of each region as a result of the opioid crises are not the same.
“Money will ultimately flow to target those who need it most. It will focus on the supply aspect, the demand aspect, and also education and prevention,” he explained.
Among the cities who have signed onto the agreement is Huntington, one of the most impacted communities in America from the opioid epidemic. Mayor Steve Williams said the money must be used to abate opioid issues of the future.
“Something that’s critically important is to have an abatement program in place so that we can make blessed sure this never, ever happens again in the state of West Virginia.,” Williams said.