Ky. official blames governor for delayed opioid suits

Published 4:18 pm Thursday, December 14, 2017

FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general says his efforts to sue companies that make powerfully addictive opioid-based painkillers have been stymied by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration.

Andy Beshear’s office had awarded a contract to four law firms to assist with his plan to file multiple lawsuits against companies that make and market opioid-based painkillers. But nearly three months later, Bevin’s Finance and Administration Cabinet has not approved the contract.

“Sadly the single greatest impediment to this office’s efforts at addressing the drug epidemic has been the Finance Cabinet,” Beshear said. “I think that some people are putting politics above addressing the drug epidemic, which is a shame because drugs don’t care. Democrat or a Republican or an independent, they will kill you just the same.”

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Finance and Administration Cabinet spokeswoman Pamela Trautner said the cabinet “had concerns with some of the language in the proposed contract and has provided the (Attorney General’s office) with revisions necessary to ensure the contract complies with the law.” She did not elaborate.

Beshear said hiring the law firms is part of his plan to sue several companies that make opioid-based painkillers. The firms would only be paid if the state wins a lawsuit or settles it for a certain amount of money.

Beshear has already filed one lawsuit, suing Endo Pharmaceuticals in November. He says the company’s practices contributed to more than 190 overdose deaths in Kentucky. The company’s lawyer has said Beshear’s comments were “offensive” and has vowed to vigorously defend the company.

The contract’s delay has not impacted that lawsuit, but Beshear said it “will be a significant impediment as we move forward and want to sue other drug companies.”

“All I’m asking is that they be a partner for us in this and treat us fairly,” Beshear said. “These pharmaceutical companies … have the best of the best defense lawyers. They will spend millions upon millions of dollars defending these claims, and Kentucky tax dollars aren’t available to give us the same tools.”

Bevin and Beshear have been at war with each other since both men took office. Beshear has sued Bevin four times over his use of executive orders. Bevin has called Beshear an embarrassment to the state. Their relationship is also strained by politics, as Beshear is a potential candidate for governor in 2019, when Bevin could run for re-election.

The two have tangled over the state’s opioid crisis before. Bevin has accused Beshear of colluding with former Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway to settle a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for far less than the state could have gotten had it gone to trial. Bevin says Beshear then illegally awarded $4.2 million of the $24 million settlement to a Louisville law firm that eventually hired Conway as a partner.

Bevin is asking a judge to force that law firm to return the money. But Beshear has asked the same judge to dismiss the case. He says the law firm had a contract to work on the case, but the contract was not renewed because of an oversight. Beshear has provided emails and other documents showing Bevin’s administration told him to issue the firm a new contract so it could collect its fees.