Opioid panel head says rules Beshear signed are sufficient, and being more specific would aid ‘the most powerful and privileged’

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The executive director of the state Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission spent a fair amount of time at its latest meeting assuring attendees, both in person and by Zoom, that there were regulations directing the grant request for the millions from settlements with drug manufacturers and distributers,  despite comments made at a prior subcommittee meeting and by the governor that suggested otherwise.

Bryan Hubbard, who works for Attorney General Daniel Cameron, was referring to comments made by commission member Van Ingram, director of Gov. Steve Beshear’s Office of Drug Control Policy. At a Jan. 10 subcommittee meeting, Ingram and other subcommittee members said they needed written guidelines to make decisions about recommendations for grant awards.

On Jan. 12, Beshear was asked at his weekly news conference if he shared Ingram’s concerns and said, among other things, that “any process where there’s an application for government funds, has to have guidelines, has to have scoring criteria.” He went on to say such criteria will be needed to explain why some were selected to receive the grant money and others were not.

At the commission’s Feb. 14 meeting, Hubbard, who also chairs the panel, first praised and thanked Ingram for his many years of service fighting the opioid epidemic.

“I also want to thank you for the patient and wise counsel you have given me and my role. You are a tremendous servant of this state and a friend and colleague to me, and I am sincerely thankful for you,” said Hubbard. “I’m also sorry for the way in which remarks that you made, as part of a very deliberate and thoughtful conversation in a subcommittee meeting, were parlayed to create an illusory construct of division within this commission, where none indeed exists.”

Hubbard walked through the timeline for developing the regulations that govern the commission’s practices, which he said were unanimously passed by the commission and signed by Beshear Dec. 18.

“Since that time, there have been some assertions that this commission lacks criteria with which to evaluate the grant applications and to issue reports on the basis of clear standards that will govern our process,” he said.  To dispute that, he read a section of the emergency regulation and referred to Beshear.

“One person who expressed concern regarding an alleged lack of criteria is the very person who signed these into law,” said Hubbard. “That concern reflects either a failure to read what was signed, a failure to understand what was signed or a calculated decision to make us look bad, so that the articulator can look good.”

Beshear, a Democrat, is running for re-election and Cameron is seeking the Republican nomination to oppose him.

Hubbard concluded by saying, “We will not create or utilize a complicated, inflexible scoring system, which by effect, if not design, favors the most powerful and privileged players in this state – players who have made an arc out of mastering such systems for decades. Our goal is to create as much broad-based, grassroots participation in the commission’s work as possible, with modest resources being measured against monumental need and demand. Organizations and individuals who are doing the work government cannot or will not perform will be our priority. Our results will not be perfect, but they will be open, transparent and accountable. Kentuckians deserve no less.”

Other commission news

Hubbard noted that since the early December meeting, the commission has held two town-hall meetings, one in Louisville and the other in Lexington, and a public forum in Paducah, to address the impact of the opioid epidemic on African Americans.

“Fentanyl is now the second leading cause of death in African American men in our state,” he said. The Operation Fight Fentanyl’s website states that fentanyl was involved in over 70% of of the state’s 2,250 overdose deaths in 2021.

In addition, he said the commission participated in the Harlan County Drug Summit and provided testimony before the state House and Senate health committees, and its subcommittees have started the process of reviewing the grant applications.

The state is getting $842 million, half of which will be allocated by the commission, with the other half going to cities and counties. Funds are to be disbursed annually, on various schedules, through 2038.

Hubbard also noted that Cameron has created “Operation Fight Fentanyl” to make it a top public-safety issue and will hold forums across the state to address the problem.

The first forum was held in Kenton County Feb. 1. Others will be held in Pendleton County Feb. 28, Whitley County March 15, Greenup County March 22, Martin County April 10 and Leslie County April 18. Click here for more details.

Hubbard said the commission is looking to host a statewide opioid conference in the third week of September. He said it has secured a $100,000 sponsor, who will be announced later, to help cover the cost, which is estimated at about $150,000. Hubbard said he is seeking topics that people would like to see addressed as well as suggestions for speakers.

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