FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's drug treatment programs, overstretched by a host of dependency woes, will get a $32 million infusion from settlements with two pharmaceutical companies, Attorney General Jack Conway said Monday.
Flanked by the governor, the first lady and House speaker, Conway said the money will expand treatment care for adults and teenagers in a state where drug overdose deaths have outnumbered traffic fatalities.
"It will save lives, it will save families and it can help save parts of our commonwealth that have been riddled by addiction," Conway said at a Capitol press conference.
Conway cited a University of Kentucky study that concluded the Bluegrass state has only one-tenth of the substance abuse treatment beds it needs to meet demand.
The state has been plagued by drug woes. The General Assembly passed legislation in recent years to combat prescription pill abuse, synthetic drugs and methamphetamine production. Heroin use also has been on the rise, and lawmakers are targeting that drug in the legislative session that begins Tuesday.
The more than $32 million, earmarked mostly to expand treatment and intervention, comes from lawsuits Conway filed and recently settled against two companies: Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. and GlaxoSmithKline.
In Conway's suit against Merck, he claimed the company failed to disclose to doctors and patients that taking Vioxx significantly raised the risk of heart attack. That case was settled for $25 million.
Conway sued GlaxoSmithKline for allegedly failing to disclose that patients taking its diabetes drug, Avandia, were at a higher risk for cardiovascular problems. Conway settled that case for $15 million.
Some settlement money went to pay outside attorneys who assisted the attorney general's office, which took the lead in both lawsuits, Conway spokeswoman Allison Martin said.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said the focus on treatment gets away from the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" mentality that used to be the overriding approach to dealing with drug users.
Beshear's wife, Jane, has been a leading proponent for expanding drug treatment. The governor said successful treatment programs are a sound investment for the state.
"This commonwealth will get paid back 100-fold for every individual that we can get back on their feet and become a productive citizen," Beshear said. "They'll contribute to our ... economy."
Beshear said he has created an advisory committee to oversee the settlement funding.
The decision to earmark the settlement money drew a rebuke from state Senate President Robert Stivers. He said it bypassed the legislature's authority in deciding exactly how the money should be spent.
Stivers, a Manchester Republican, acknowledged the programs picked to receive the funding are worthwhile. "I have questions about the process, and the process only," he said.
Stivers suggested there are other drug-related programs worthy of support. Asked if he would try to block the funding, he said: "I think it is right for somebody to take it up in litigation, but it's not going to be me."
Conway, a Democrat, said he was complying with a court order to spend the money for public health purposes, specifically for substance abuse treatment.
"We're comfortable that we're on very solid legal ground here," he said.
Conway said almost $19 million of the amount will be used to start a grant program for treatment programs for juveniles. It will expand treatment beds at existing facilities and create new treatment programs.
"Adolescent and young adult substance use is a major public health problem in Kentucky," Beshear said.
Another $500,000 will go to complete construction of a drug-addiction recovery center in Boyd County in northeastern Kentucky — a part of the state with a pressing need for more treatment efforts, Conway said.
Another $2.5 million will be used for scholarships for people seeking help at treatment centers. Some of the money will also create drug-free homes for people transitioning out of residential treatment programs, and to support drug treatment for pregnant women at centers in Lexington and Corbin.