OPINION: Putting ‘West Virginia First’: agreement will help all West Virginians

By W.Va. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey,

The opioid scourge is one of the greatest challenges West Virginia has ever faced. The vast oversupply of prescription opioids caused or contributed to too many senseless deaths, and too many broken families, over many, many years.
We have fought hard—and we’re still fighting—to bring a sense of healing to the state. While litigation and settlements will not bring back the lives lost from the opioid epidemic, our hope is that the monies garnered will provide much needed help to those affected the most.
Gov. Jim Justice recently signed into law Senate Bill 674, which codifies the West Virginia First Foundation in statute. We now have the platform desperately needed to manage the nearly $1 billion in opioid settlements available to our state and political subdivisions. This represents a major step forward in the fight against this devastating epidemic. Far too many lives have been lost to this epidemic—enough is enough.
Pursuant to SB 674, the Governor will appoint members to the Foundation’s board of directors, with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The West Virginia First Foundation is a private, nonstock, nonprofit entity created to distribute opioid abatement funds throughout six regions of the State. The Foundation will operate pursuant to Articles of Incorporation that will soon be filed as well as the terms of the West Virginia First Memorandum of Understanding. 
The MOU created the first plan of action to address the opioid crisis, and was the first step toward healing the battered communities in this state. Standing together, the State, all 55 counties, and 220 of 229 cities and towns signed onto the MOU. 
The MOU details the allocation method for any settlement funds or judgments received as a result of the various lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors and other parties in the pharmaceutical supply chain. As the central entity dedicated to addressing the opioid crisis throughout our state, the Foundation will receive 72.5% of all settlement and judgment dollars. Another 24.5% will go directly to local governments, while 3% will be held in escrow by the state. 
Importantly, the MOU sets forth a basic framework of opioid abatement strategies that both the Foundation and local governments will use to help insure that all monies received are put to good use. This framework along with the allocation mixture will help maximize the impact of every opioid dollar throughout the six regions of the state in a manner that helps families and funds projects most in need. 
Between 1997 and 2018, drug companies shipped 4.9 billion pills to our state, which at that time had a population of roughly 1.84 million. That equates to 2,679 pills for every West Virginian.
Comparatively, New York and California during that same period received 1,457 and 1,168 pills per resident, respectively.
The communities of our state have been ravaged by the wrongdoing of those within the pharmaceutical supply chain. With this MOU, West Virginia has dramatically improved its ability to take actions to protect all the citizens of our state from this epidemic.
The severity of this problem and the harm done to West Virginians cannot be overstated nor ignored. And that’s especially true in light of the proliferation of fentanyl coming in from China, into the Mexican drug cartels and across the border, eventually making its way to West Virginia. Given this fentanyl threat, the creation of this structure and plan couldn’t come at a better time.
We must prevent another generation from falling prey to senseless death. The West Virginia First Foundation will be a major step forward on the path to recovery.


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