AG Rutledge wants $140 million in opioid funds for general revenues; Griffin says not yet

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 822 views 

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Thursday (Dec. 15) that she would begin directing more than $140 million in restricted opioid settlement dollars to general revenues, but her successor, Attorney General-elect Tim Griffin, said he would have to study the issue when he comes into office.

The money is coming from six completed settlements with drug manufacturers and distributors, with more on the way.

Rutledge said in a press conference Thursday that many of the settlement dollars are restricted to opioid or prescription drug epidemic-related expenses, such as treatment and mental health care.

She said the money cannot be used for tax cuts, highways or other needs unless it is related to prescription drug abuse as outlined in the settlements. A road to a treatment center would be an appropriate use, she said.

She said some of the money will be transferred to general revenues before she leaves office in January, while other funds will be coming to the state over time in the form of payments made by drug companies.

Rutledge, the Lt. Governor-elect, said Griffin, the current Lt. Governor, could choose not to transfer the rest of that money when he enters office.

“Quite frankly, I would be shocked” if he did not, she said.

She said she had not discussed the announcement with him or with Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She has discussed it with Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Griffin indicated in a statement that he would have to consider how best to use the funds.

“Upon taking office, I will conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of the use of settlement funds, including spending on television commercials and public service announcements that have far exceeded historic norms,” he said, referring to Rutledge’s activities. “This review is essential to ensure transparency and restore the public trust in the use of settlement funds.

“Second, I will act in accordance with the law and the relevant settlement agreement. Finally, I will allocate the settlement proceeds in a way that best accomplishes the goal of opioid abatement. Thousands of Arkansans have struggled with opioid addiction, including in my family, and we must do everything in our power to address this public health crisis. That may or may not involve the transfer of funds to general revenue.”

Rutledge said her office has drafted legislation that would have legislators and the governor appoint a commission whose members would consider how the money should be distributed. She encouraged legislators to bring stakeholders into the discussion.

According to a press release from her office, Rutledge in early 2017 sued drug manufacturers Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, and Endo Pharmaceuticals for violations of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA), the Arkansas Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act, and for public nuisance, unjust enrichment, and civil conspiracy violations.

She also this year settled a suit against distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation, and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation for violating the ADTPA and also for negligence, creating a public nuisance, and being unjustly enriched by business practices.

She has settled suits or is in the process of settling with CVS Health Corporation, Walgreens, McKinsey, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Walmart, and Mallinckrodt for their roles in the opioid epidemic.

In announcing the move, Rutledge said the state has lost more than 4,000 Arkansans to overdose deaths in the last eight years. When she took office in 2015, the state had a rate of 117 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons. That has fallen to 75.3 prescriptions per 100 persons, she said.

Nationwide, the rate has fallen from 70.6 prescriptions per 100 persons in 2015 to 43.3 in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.