The Tulsa (Oklahoma) World published this editorial on Aug. 28 regarding the $572 million verdict in Oklahoma's opioid case against health care giant Johnson & Johnson:

Oklahoma has won a judgment of more than $572 million against corporate health care giant Johnson & Johnson after showing that the company's role in the state's opioid crisis created a public nuisance that "compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans."

The company says Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman's verdict is wrong and has promised an appeal.

But for now, we'll take the court's decision on its face, and declare it another significant victory for the state and Attorney General Mike Hunter. Combined with two previous settlements with opioid manufacturers, the state looks to get more than $900 million in justified compensation from big drug companies.

A judgment of $572 million is big by any standard, but it's a lot less than the $17 billion the state had asked for. The larger number anticipated the many years it would take for the state to recover from the opioid crisis. Balkman's judgment says his number covers only one year's costs for the state, and future orders are a possibility.

Hunter's decision to pursue Oklahoma's opioid cases independently of the multistate case pending in Ohio was brave. If he had lost, he risked being blamed for the state absorbing all the opioid crisis costs. His boldness and his success means the state won't have to split compensation with other litigants and has less risk of losing some or all of its settlements if a drug company declares bankruptcy.

The temptation of a $572 million windfall is to celebrate, and it certainly beats losing. But we haven't lost sight of the fact that the money is compensation for the state's costs in a horrific crisis.

Both sides agreed that some 2,100 Oklahomans died of unintentional prescription opioid overdoses from 2011-2015; that more than 326 million opioid pills were dispensed in the state in 2015 alone, equivalent to 110 pills for every adult Oklahoman; and that, in 2017, 4.2% of babies covered by the state's Medicaid program were born with withdrawal conditions associated with drug exposure in the womb.

Such human tragedy puts Monday's justice in perspective and is the mark of shame forever upon those responsible.

Gaming issue to play role in Ky. governor's race

The State Journal of Frankfort, Kentucky, published this editorial on Aug. 26 regarding proposed gaming legislation and reactions from Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and Democratic gubernatorial challenger Andy Beshear:

Democratic gubernatorial challenger Andy Beshear is hoping to win the office by, among other ways, rolling the dice in support of expanded gaming - including legalizing casinos and sports wagering. With the issue likely to come up during next year's General Assembly session, many believe that how far the topic advances in the legislature depends on who wins November's general election.

Beshear, who supports expanded gaming as a way to provide a steady funding stream for public pensions, believes the state can't afford to fall behind neighboring states and the rest of the country.

"We lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars a year," he said, adding that he would work to legalize sports betting, casinos, fantasy sports and prepare for online poker.

The issue was initially broached by Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, who sponsored a bill to make sports wagering legal during this year's regular session. Though the bill didn't receive a committee hearing in the Senate, Carroll has said he is proposing similar legislation in 2020.

Two other state representatives - Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, and Al Gentry, D-Louisville - have also sponsored expanded gaming bills, with a cut of the proceeds funding the pension system.

Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin has remained staunchly opposed to the idea, citing the societal cost.

"Every night, somewhere in America, somebody takes their life in a casino because they've wasted the last semblance of dignity and hope that they had," he said. "Families are ruined, lives are ruined."

Bevin also said that the amount of money raised from expanded gaming wouldn't be a magic pill for the public pension system and that it is not a viable solution.

Is expanded gaming the issue that makes or breaks the election for Bevin and Beshear? Probably not, but with both candidates in opposite corners, it is shaping up to be an important one in voters' choice of Kentucky's chief executive for the next four years.


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