What is the monetary value of the life of a West Virginian? Our attorney general seems to know.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office settled an opioid-related case against McKesson Corp. for $37 million.
While it’s hard to turn one’s nose up at $37 million, this amount represents a mere drop in the ocean in terms of the costs of the opioid crisis, and a pittance for a company that brought in annual revenue of $208 billion in 2018.
Earlier this year, in March, the State of Oklahoma settled with Purdue Pharmacy in a similar case for $270 million, over seven times more than the McKesson settlement.
While even a single opioid-related issue is too many, and while we do not want to minimize the problems Oklahoma faces, West Virginia remains at the top of the list in opioid-related overdose deaths per capita.
The economic burden of the opioid crisis across the country has risen steadily, costing the U.S. over $1 trillion in health care, treatment, prevention and other related costs since 2001, and it is projected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2020.
McKesson sent more than 3 million prescription opioids — nearly 10,000 pills a day on average — to a single pharmacy in Kermit, a town of 400, according to a congressional report. Settling these kinds of suits at such low amounts seems a transparently bad deal for the state and an injustice to those who have been lost.
As if the low amount isn’t bad enough, the usage of that sum and the terms within the settlement are also raising eyebrows. Most notably, the money received will go to repairing a fraction of the damage that has already been done by McKesson and other pharmaceutical companies.
What the settlement does not accomplish, however, is any sort of prevention to curb future problems.
McKesson denied all wrongdoing on their part and agreed to continue their already-in-practice distribution monitoring system — the same system that allowed such egregious shipments in the first place.
What West Virginia needs to be fighting for is meaningful and lasting change on the part of opioid manufacturers and distributors. What West Virginia did in this settlement was the equivalent of forcing McKesson to buy a bandage for a knife wound — without even taking away their knife.
What little money the state will see of the settlement will be divided even further, with part of it being split into yearly payments through 2024, and another portion still going to the Attorney General’s Office to cover operating expenses.
In the 2019 legislative session, two bills passed the West Virginia House of Delegates that would have required money made from opioid-related settlements to be immediately and entirely appropriated to help fight the epidemic.
One of those bills died on the Senate floor, and the other was vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice. The urgency and immediacy of the opioid crisis in our state cannot be overstated, and we feel that in this case, our leadership has certainly failed us.
They failed to get a fair settlement, they failed to ensure this money would be spent properly and they have failed to accomplish proper justice for those of us who have lost friends and loved ones to this modern plague.