Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Wednesday that his office plans to file two to 10 lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers that allegedly contributed to the state’s drug overdose crisis by illegally marketing and selling opioids.
Beshear said his office will hire outside counsel on a contingency fee to assist in the multiple lawsuits and to ensure that state tax dollars are not used for litigation costs. He identified McKesson Corp., a California-based pharmaceutical distributor, as one possible target of the lawsuits.
Beshear’s announcement in his Capitol office came a few minutes after Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, held a teleconference to raise questions about Beshear and the state’s settlement in 2015 against Purdue Pharma, the maker of the painkiller OxyContin. The state claimed Purdue Pharma misrepresented how easy it is to get hooked on the powerful painkiller, driving up drug problems and deaths in Kentucky.
Stivers suggested that Kentucky’s 2007 lawsuit against Purdue Pharma was settled in December 2015 by then-Attorney General Jack Conway because of potential conflicts of interest with Beshear, the incoming attorney general. Beshear was previously an attorney with Stites and Harbison, which helped represent Purdue Pharma.
Conway settled the case with Purdue Pharma in 2015 for $24 million, an amount Stivers said was far less than what former Attorney General Greg Stumbo and Conway had suggested they could get from Purdue Pharma. The settlement included an agreement to keep some of the documents in the case sealed from public view.
Stivers said he thinks those documents should be made public.
“It may have been settled because of potential conflicts,” Stivers said. “That’s what we want answered. Open the records. If it’s not, that’s fine. If it is, then there’s more questions that need to be asked.”
Beshear told the Herald-Leader’s editorial board in 2015 that he had never been involved in or privy to any non-public information about the case, though he refused to identify the clients he represented as a private attorney who specialized in helping companies that ran afoul of the attorney general’s office.
Beshear repeated Wednesday that he received no income as a private attorney because of the Purdue Pharma settlement.
Beshear said Stivers’ comments are “silly” and “shame on President Stivers.”
“To use this type of press conference or preempt this type of action with a political shot when it deals with opioids and the lives of our families, that ought to be beneath him,” Beshear said.
Stat, a national health publication owned by Boston Globe Media, asked a court in 2016 to unseal documents in the Purdue Pharma case as it searched for information about how the company marketed OxyContin and whether top executives knew about the addictive dangers of the pill.
Stivers said he plans to file a motion in that case sometime next week, even though the Kentucky Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case Monday.
“We are going to take the option and if the court denies it, the court denies it,” Stivers said.
Beshear said until now, Stivers “loved” the Purdue Pharma settlement. He noted that Stivers participated in a May 2016 news conference in Corbin when Beshear presented Independence House recovery center with $450,000 from the settlement to support drug abuse treatment for pregnant women.
He said Stivers even complimented his mother, former first lady Jane Beshear, on her work against drug abuse.
“I guess a lot changes when your income is dependent on an at-will job of your spouse for the governor,” said Beshear, referencing Stivers’ wife, Regina Stivers, who makes $118,000 a year as the deputy secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.
Beshear announced last week that Kentucky was one of several states participating in a bipartisan effort among attorneys general to use their offices to fight the opioid crisis.
Attorneys general in Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri and West Virginia recently have filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
Kentucky officials announced Tuesday that the number of drug-overdose deaths in the state hit a new high in 2016. Kentucky recorded 1,404 overdose deaths, up from 1,248 in 2015.