More than $32 million from settlements with drug makers will finance expanded substance-abuse treatment in Kentucky

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky will receive more than $32 million as a result of lawsuit settlements with two pharmaceutical companies, and top state officials have allocated the money to expand access to substance-abuse treatment, especially for the young, the officials announced at a Frankfort press conference Monday.

“The only way to curb substance abuse was to start finding a way to work with the children, to help these young men and women when this disease first begins,” said Jane Beshear, co-chairman of Recovery Kentucky, a residential treatment program for substance abusers that would get some of the money under an executive order from her husband, Gov. Steve Beshear.

From left: Conway, the Beshears, House Speaker Greg Stumbo

“We must increase access to treatment if we are going to stop this cycle of addiction” that runs in families, said Attorney General Jack Conway, who sued GlaxoSmithKline and Merck Sharp and Dohme Corp., alleging that they failed to disclose heart-attack risks posed by their drugs: Glaxo’s arthritis pain drug Vioxx, which was withdrawn from the market in 2004; and Merck’s diabtes drug Avandia, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found in 2007 carried inadequate warnings.

Conway said the settlement money “will be allocated to help create a new treatment center for adults, for treatment scholarships and for a grant program to create more treatment beds for our juveniles and adolescents.” He said a study by the University of Kentucky reported that the state has only 10 percent of the beds needed for substance-abuse treatment.

The governor said national estimates indicate that as many as one in eight Kentucky high-school students in meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder, but most youth ending up in juvenile justice detention facilities or in the state child welfare system. neither of which is a long-term solution. He said the current system is “fragmented, hard to access and inconsistent.”

Beshear issued an executive order allocating the money, citing as authority a state law on such settlements. However, that law says the legislature has the sole power to appropriate money, so the General Assembly may have more to say about it. Beshear  said Senate President Robert Stivers had planned to attend the press conference but dropped out because of concern that the order usurped legislative authority. Stivers alluded to that a few hours later on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight,” questioning the allocation of money by executive order.

Stivers is a Republican; Beshear and Conway are Democrats. So is Stivers’ House counterpart, Speaker Greg Stumbo, who spoke at the press conference and called the use of the settlement money “truly a remarkable turn in public policy in our state.” Conway said the settlements required that the money go to drug treatment.

Under the order, $19 million of the money will go for additional juvenile and adolescent treatment, including new centers and additional beds in existing facilities. A committee crested by Beshear and headed by Conway will take applications and decide where the money goes. The committee is to include Jane Beshear, appointees of Stivers and Stumbo, and several state officials.

More specific allocations include $6 million for improvements in KASPER, the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system, which is designed to track all controlled-substance prescriptions in the state; $2.52 million in scholarships for non-correctional referrals for people who seek treatment at Recovery Kentucky centers; $1.25 million to the state Department of Education, to develop a school based substance abuse screening and assessment tool and a database to evaluate the outcomes of juvenile treatment; a total of $1 million to The Chrysalis House in Lexington and the Independence House in Corbin, which provide substance-abuse treatment for pregnant women; $560,000 over two years to create 14 recovery homes for people who have completed treatment and are transitioning out of residential substance abuse facilities; and $500,000 to complete construction on a Recovery Kentucky treatment center facility in Boyd County.
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