Politics & Government

Kentucky spending $32 million from settlements on drug treatment programs

FRANKFORT — More than $32 million collected from lawsuit settlements with two drug companies will be used to expand substance abuse treatment in Kentucky, Attorney General Jack Conway said Monday.

Conway, at a Capitol news conference with Gov. Steve Beshear, First Lady Jane Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, said the money will expand treatment for youth and adults statewide.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the planned uses of the money are worthwhile but he had concerns that it was not put in the state's General Fund for lawmakers to decide how to spend.

About $19 million will be used to start a grant program to finance juvenile abuse treatment programs, Conway said. Other expenditures include $2.52 million for scholarships to seek treatment at the state's 17 Recovery Kentucky Centers; $560,000 to help create 14 drug-free homes for people making the transition out of residential drug treatment programs; and $500,000 to complete construction of a treatment center in Boyd County.

It also will provide $6 million to administer KASPER, the state's electronic prescription drug monitoring program; $1 million to support drug programs for pregnant women at Chrysalis House in Lexington and Independence House in Corbin; $1.5 million to the University of Kentucky to help treatment providers; $1 million for a school-based substance abuse screening tool with the state Department of Education; and $250,000 to create a database to evaluate outcomes of juvenile treatment.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the money "will go a long way in helping Kentucky's ongoing efforts to provide treatment options for drug abuse."

There are about 2,400 treatment beds in Kentucky, but a federal survey estimated that there are 280,000 residents who need alcohol or drug treatment, according to Conway's office.

Beshear issued an executive order to create a committee that will oversee spending of the settlement money. It is to be chaired by Conway and will include Jane Beshear, Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes, Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown, Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy director Van Ingram, Kentucky Housing Corp. executive director Kathryn Peters, and Allen Brenzel, clinical director of the state Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities.

Conway filed suit against Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation for failing to disclose to doctors and patients that taking Vioxx significantly raised the risk of heart attack. He recently settled the case for $25 million.

Conway also filed suit against GlaxoSmithKline for failing to disclose that patients taking its diabetes drug, Avandia, were at a higher risk for a cardiovascular event. That suit was settled for $15 million.

Conway spokeswoman Alison Gardner Martin said the settlements totaled $40 million but $8 million was used to pay attorneys who assisted in the cases.

Outside attorneys for the state in the Merck and Co. case were Lexington attorney Bill Garmer and the Hare Wynn Newell and Newton law firm, based in Alabama, she said. On the Avandia case, outside attorneys were JonesWard PLC in Louisville and Baron & Budd in Dallas.

Money from legal settlements obtained by the attorney general typically are put in the state's General Fund. State legislators then determine how the money is spent.

In this case, Conway said court orders filed in both settlements require that the money be spent on drug treatment programs.

Conway and Beshear, both Democrats, said Stivers was invited to the news conference but he did not attend. Instead, Stivers later told reporters that the legislature has in place a framework for handling money from legal settlements by putting the money in the General Fund, which pays for most state programs.

Stivers said Conway should have informed the judge of that process.

Stivers also said he has not talked to the Senate Republican caucus about the settlement funds but that he has no plans to legally challenge their use by Conway.