Opioids Settlement: AG’s decision was reasonable

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is being criticized by some for his handling of a lawsuit settlement for a whopping $37 million.

Could the state have collected more from drug distributor the McKesson Corp.? Maybe. But the bottom line is $37 million is big money and far from a surrender to McKesson. It is believed the amount represents the largest single settlement of its kind in the entire nation.

McKesson is a drug distributor, not a manufacturer. Still, the company played a role in flooding our state with opioid pain pills that helped create the current substance abuse crisis. So, Morrisey’s office filed a lawsuit against the company. Plaintiffs were the attorney general’s office, the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. The three will split proceeds from the settlement, announced several days ago.

West Virginia has been reasonably active in holding drug companies responsible for the abuse crisis. The McKesson agreement brings to $84 million the total in settlements from 13 drug distributors.

Should Morrisey have pushed for more, perhaps taking the case to trial? Consider the history of such lawsuits. The vast majority end in settlements, not trials, because of the uncertainties of arguing cases before judges and juries.

Just days after the McKesson announcement, another settlement was revealed. It was between federal authorities in West Virginia and Acadia Healthcare Co. Inc., for $17 million. The case involved Medicaid fraud — a clear matter of establishing numbers in court rather than convincing a judge and/or jury of whether pain pill shipments helped cause the drug addiction crisis. Still, federal officials decided to go with a settlement rather than risk the uncertainties of a trial.

As far as what will be done with the $37 million, which is to be paid out over a period ending in 2024, the vast majority of the funds will go toward battling drug abuse in various ways. The DHHR and DMAPS already have plans for their shares of the money.

Morrisey’s office says it will use some to battle directly against drug abuse, while reserving a relatively small amount to continue funding the attorney general’s consumer protection division.

Holding everyone in the opioid pain pill supply chain responsible for their parts in the addiction crisis is important; and doing so deserves kudos, not Monday-morning quarterbacking.

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