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GOP governor candidates say W.Va. should have received more in opioid settlements

West Virginia’s litigation in a range of lawsuits over opioid addiction is bringing in a total of $940,386,000, and Republican candidates for governor say it could have been more.

During a MetroNews debate, three candidates blamed another, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, for not being aggressive enough. And they also questioned Morrisey’s influence over the West Virginia First Foundation, which is the entity established to divvy up the money to alleviate the effects of drug addiction in communities around the state.

Morrisey opted against participating in the debate, saying it was too early in the electoral cycle. He participated in a streamed interview, solo, with another news organization instead.

Businessman Chris Miller, one of the Republican candidates for governor early on criticized Morrisey for his absence as well as his earlier work history as a lobbyist representing pharmaceutical companies.

“You know what’s not leadership? When Patrick Morrisey was a lobbyist, he showed up every single day for special interests,” Miller said. “Then when the voters, when the taxpayers, have serious questions, he doesn’t show up at all. He’s hiding in his basement like Joe Biden. That’s not what leadership is.”

Opioid settlements

Later, the conversation turned more specifically to the opioid addiction crisis. West Virginia has led the nation in per capita drug overdose deaths.

The West Virginia First Foundation is starting to get organized, is moving toward hiring an executive director and has $217 million in the bank so far. Morrisey, whose office took the lead in the statewide drug lawsuits against distributors, wholesalers and pharmacies, has been at the center of organizing the

Miller said the amount available to the state should have been more.

“Simply put, he’s a bad negotiator,” Miller said. “If you look at the per capita settlements of the surrounding states versus what West Virginia got, we got sold down the river.”

When reminded that West Virginia is in line for nearly a billion dollars overall, Miller responded, “should have been three times that, at least. We were at the heart of the opioid epidemic.”

House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, another Republican candidate for governor, agreed.

“We had the opportunity of a lifetime recently to bring dollars and funding in to prevent this with the opioid settlement. Patrick Morrisey is not here tonight because he can’t answer the difficult questions that West Virginians are asking about that sketchy deal,” Capito said. “He’s a former pharmaceutical lobbyist that reached a sweetheart deal with the drug companies.

“The facts are that he went at it alone. He didn’t join the national class action lawsuit because he wanted a political win for himself for the campaign that he’s not here to talk about tonight. And what happened because of that? We left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table, and we shipped millions of dollars out of state to trial attorneys.”

Capito has questioned whether Morrisey would unfairly benefit politically from what the West Virginia First Foundation now does. Capito raised that issue again during the debate.

“I don’t know where Patrick Morrisey is tonight in his Washington, D.C., apartment watching or wherever he is, but we asked him simply to do this: make a pledge to the people of West Virginia that you won’t use this money that needs to be distributed on need and need alone for your political gain.”

Morrisey addresses opioid litigation decisions

Morrisey addressed his role in the opioid crisis during a separate, streaming interview with HD Media. He described the results as “the number one per capita settlements in the country.”

Responding to criticism over millions of dollars in attorney’s fees following the opioid settlements, Morrisey said, “Usually when you get it right, you’re going to get attacked by someone.

“What my office controlled, not only did we get the number one per capita settlements in the country, but the state-based legal services are actually the lowest in the country. So, we actually got the most amount of money for the lowest fees. That’s a big win. So, I think the misnomer that some of these people out there didn’t realize was West Virginia negotiated a great deal as a state.”

He concluded, “We didn’t leave any money on the table.”

On the West Virginia First Foundation, Morrisey responded to questions of openness.

“We need for there to be transparency in terms of the total dollars that are being spent, and I think people should be part of the process,” he said. “I think it’s critical that people are going to get full access to these records to know all the dollars that are being spent, they’re going to know the grant process, they’re going to be able to participate.”

Touched by opioid crisis

The West Virginia MetroNews debate asked candidates if their own lives have been touched by the opioid crisis.

Mac Warner, a Republican gubernatorial candidate who has served two terms as Secretary of State, described friends and colleagues who lost loved ones to drug addiction over a very short period of time.

“That’s when it smacked me that said, yes, we’ve got this opioid crisis and it has to be dealt with,” said Warner, who advocated for public outreach to try to stop experimentation with hard drugs.

Miller said the crisis has personally touched him and his family.

“I’ve been sober from alcohol and opiates since April 1 of 2004. You asked a direct question about who’s been touched by it. I’ve been touched by it. Family members have been touched by it,” Miller said.

“And it’s very, very hard. This is something that I’m very, very passionate about. You will never find anyone else in the history of West Virginia who has been through what I have been through and will focus on making sure that we eliminate the opioid epidemic right here in our state.”