The opioid windfall for state governments
State governments are set to reap billions of dollars from a settlement with opioid manufacturers state lawyers alleged were behind a nationwide epidemic of pain med abuse.
All that money, one might think, will be used to care for those suffering through addiction, prevent its continued spread, and begin repairing the damage to communities. States, though, have other plans for that windfall, most of which have nothing to do with opioids or treating addicts:
As Peter Pischke writes in Reason:
While addiction experts generally favor harm reduction, state leaders of both parties are prone to advocating heavy-handed law enforcement policies, such as mandatory drug courts and further surveillance of physicians and patients. And even if you could push aside the drug crusaders, an anti-addiction policy might mean anything.
Consider just a sampling of the “anti-addiction” policies those settlements are funding. In West Virginia, addiction services mean more in education spending; in Oklahoma, it means more money for corrections. Oregon likes medical research and equity; Connecticut is particular to social services. In Minnesota, the focus is on non-narcotic pain treatments. Michigan’s plans include efforts to help new mothers.
And there’s a bigger problem: There is little to stop states from using those funds according to the established parameters, then shifting the regular budgeted funds elsewhere. After the McKinsey settlement, then–New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo notified the Office of Addiction Services and Supports that of the state’s $32 million share, $21 million will be going to the state’s general fund.
And let’s not forget this special item from an earlier settlement:
In 2007, then–West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin tried to use settlement funds from Purdue Pharma to purchase a gubernatorial helicopter.
For governments, legal settlements are like unexpected Christmas gifts of cash. Yes, they will promise to spend the money to help people. Eventually. But first, they have some other priorities to fill and will get to your issues as time (and remaining funds) allow.