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State Legislators Want to Ensure Access to Opioid Settlement Funds

— May 31, 2019

The amended House Bill 2751, which unanimously passed out of the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, seeks to ensure the state treasury received opioid lawsuit settlement funds.

State lawmakers want any money gained from the attorney general settling state lawsuits to go into the treasury after the well publicized $270 million settlement between the state of Oklahoma and opioid manufacturers.  After Attorney General Mike Hunter settled a lawsuit between the state and Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and the Sackler family, Rep. Terry O’Donnell introduced last-minute bill language Monday to clarify the duties of the state’s attorney general to “put specific settlement funds into the state treasury so lawmakers can decide how it is spent.”

State lawmakers did not learn of the settlement’s terms until they were publicly announced.

Hunter said back in April. “On reflection, I wish there was a way I could have consulted them, but I was under court order to keep those negotiations confidential.”

He added at the time, “I have to make tough calls in this job.  There was a situation that was unique and isolated with regard to this defendant, and I made the call to make sure we didn’t get zero, that we got something significant for one of our public universities.”

The settlement stipulates $200 million must go towards establishing a national center for addiction treatment at the Oklahoma State University Center for Wellness and Recovery in Tulsa, and the rest of the funds are to be allocated to local governments or used to pay off legal fees.

State Legislators Want to Ensure Access to Opioid Settlement Funds
Photo by Shot by Cerqueira on Unsplash

A statement from Purdue following an agreement of these terms confirmed, “The money from the agreement will go toward addiction treatment, research and education, which will directly help the citizens of Oklahoma.”

The amended House Bill 2751 strengthens existing statutory language to ensure that if the attorney general is representing the state or a state agency, settlement funds are to be allocated specifically towards the state treasury.

“I think many of us in the Legislature felt it was the obligation of the attorney general to pay that money into the treasury based on existing laws and if there is any confusion about that obligation, this should clarify that,” said O’Donnell, R-Catoosa.

“There are policies and procedures, and a way things are done, and this is not the way that this was supposed to be done,” said Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore. “It was handled wrong, and we need to make sure it never happens again.”

Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat who helped negotiate the state’s settlement with big tobacco several decades ago, defended the way things were handled between Hunter, Purdue, and the Sacklers and said Hunter did the right thing.  He said the authority to handle such a unique situation “is placed with the attorney general, and regardless of party, that’s the way it should be.  I look at this as a settlement decision, what had to be done in order to get the settlement with this defendant in this case.”

HB 2751 unanimously passed out of the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget.  O’Donnell expects the bill to pass both the House and Senate – members from both offered input on the revised measure.


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