No amount of money can undo the damage the opioid epidemic has caused this nation, this region and this community. Too many lives have been lost and too many people continue to struggle with addiction. Too many of their family members suffer, also.
Federal, state and local authorities across America are lining up at the trough to get as much money as they can from drug makers and drug distributors. When money becomes available through a settlement, there are arguments over who deserves more.
That happened again last week when West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he opposes a settlement agreement disclosed this past Wednesday between 15 attorneys general and the bankrupt Purdue Pharma, which is among the companies accused of helping to create and fuel the opioid crisis.
West Virginia is joined by nine other states and the District of Columbia in opposing how the settlement money would be distributed. As of mid-April, West Virginia was set to receive just 1%, about $81 million, of the settlement amount, which was based on a state’s population, not the severity by which it has been hit by the crisis. That $81 million comes to a little more than $2 per state resident.
“Any such allocation formula is harmful to West Virginians, and fails to recognize the disproportionate harm caused by opioids in our state. I look forward to arguing our case in court this August,” Morissey said.
“I remain vigorously opposed to a proposed allocation formula that would distribute settlement funds largely based on a state or local government’s population — not intensity of the problem.”
Morrisey is right. The court action was taken to partially make right what had gone so terribly wrong. The pain of this problem is not distributed evenly across the country. Places that have been harmed most need more money to begin the process of remedying the harm.
Despite the carnage opioids have caused, there is one family in the drug trade that is relatively unscathed. That’s the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma. Both Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family are based in Connecticut, which is a party in Purdue Pharma’s case in federal bankruptcy court. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong told NPR last week that he opposes the settlement.
“This is an abuse of the bankruptcy process. The Sacklers are not bankrupt,” Tong told NPR. “They have tens of billions of dollars that they’ve pilfered from this company. And for them to use the bankruptcy process to shield themselves and protect themselves is an outrage.”
The Sackler family made a lot of money off people’s misery. The bankruptcy process and ongoing trials, such as the one in Charleston brought by Cabell County and the city of Huntington, must hold them accountable. Exactly how that would happen is a question lawyers will have to answer, but it must be done. It’s time for them to feel the pain, too.