BUCKHANNON — At the meeting on Thursday, Buckhannon City Attorney Tom O’Neill, informed members of City Council of the National Opioid Litigation Settlement-Plaintiff’s Distribution Plan. The Opioid Litigation was mentioned in a previous edition of The Record Delta and summarized information that O’Neill provided to the City Council at the February 17 meeting. Lawsuits were filed by 54 of the 55 of West Virginia’s counties against a multitude of drug and opioid manufacturers in Civil Action No. 21-C-9000-MFR.
O’Neill recognized that Rusty Webb of The Webb Law Center based in Kanawha County has been representing the City of Buckhannon among other cities and counties in the opioid lawsuit. He then introduced Webb to speak to City Council on the subject.
“The Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced a memorandum of understanding, that is the agreement of the litigating entities in West Virginia which includes 54 counties and 70 cities, one county chose not to get involved and two major cities chose not to get involved,” said Webb. He continued, the MOU (memorandum of understanding) has been agreed upon and every state has had to go through this process,” said Webb. “The normal distribution is called a 15-15-70 and is where 15% goes to the state, 15% goes to counties and cities and 70% goes to a trust fund. In West Virginia, we did it a little bit differently where the cities and counties will receive 24.5%, the state will get 3% and the remaining 70% goes to a trust fund.” Webb elaborated that the 3% has been held back in case West Virginia is asked to give funds back based on the use of Medicaid to cover opioid issues. “This is just good bookkeeping,” Webb said.
Webb reviewed what the City of Buckhannon may receive. According to his documentation, Buckhannon would receive $166,653. Webb explained that there are different formulas used to estimate these numbers. Webb went on to discuss how other states with high population such as California, Texas and Pennsylvania adopted a plan known as the Denver Formula, created in 2019, was highly population based. If West Virginia would have agreed to the Denver Formula, the state would have received less money simply based on having a lower population.
“West Virginia held out in 2019 and we chose to go with a fairer formula known as the National Class Action formula. Our metrics within the state are health, police protection, fire protection, judicial and legal, public welfare and housing and development,” said Webb. “More important to Buckhannon is this. You can use half of the 24.5% to creatively pay yourself back for funds that you had to shift from one department to the other because of the opioid epidemic. It happens in every city where we were going to build a playground but because of the drug issues and collateral problems such as theft and burglary, we had to shift the money and buy another cruiser. The other remaining percentage would then have to be used for abatement meaning prevention, education, and treatment of opioid issues.”
Webb also mentioned that collaboration with other cities and counties would be beneficial. Since Buckhannon is in a DHHR region, some money may come back to the city through grants also. Additionally, Webb mentioned a possibility of going into executive session to discuss further. However, the meeting continued to be open to the public. “The Attorney General has $10 million in a fund which came from a settlement that occurred with other states versus Perdue Pharma and their public relations firm McKinsey,” Webb said. He also noted another settlement was just announced and was $26 million. So, he concluded that West Virginia would have an estimated $36 million for the opioid crisis from these opioid lawsuits.
Webb noted some counties and cities may not be like the amounts given based on the National Class Action Formula secondary to the cities are being given twice the amount the counties are.
“I don’t expect that to happen here, if it does we can discuss that.” O’Neill then spoke up and stated, “This is a take it or leave it kind of thing and not something we can negotiate,” Webb said.
Council members questioned if immediate action was necessary at the meeting. Councilman CJ Rylands presented the first motion to approve and a second motion made by Councilwoman Sheila Lewis-Sines for the approval. However, Councilman J. David Thomas spoke out and Mayor Robbie Skinner also spoke out that further discussion would be necessary. O’Neill then took the podium, “This is a forward-looking settlement, not a backward-looking settlement. This is about fixing things going forward and not about putting money back into the city’s general fund to cover increased expenses.” After the brief discussion, the motion did carry to move forward with the current distribution plan as outlined by the officials involved in the National Opioid Litigation Settlement.