Allegheny Mountain Radio
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey traveled to Pocahontas County last Monday to discuss and promote his upcoming West Virginia First Memorandum of Understanding following settlements in his successful opioid litigation against pharmaceutical companies.
After meeting with students at Pocahontas County High School, Morrisey and his Consumer Representative Justin Arvon, met with community members, law enforcement and several members of the Pocahontas County Day Report Center at Marlinton Town Hall. The mayors of Marlinton and Durbin and at least one Marlinton Town Council member were also in attendance.
Morrisey said there is good news in the continuing fight against opioids in the state.
“We are making significant progress in terms of holding people accountable for the roles they’ve played in the opioid epidemic” he said, “and I think that’s important for you to know.”
He said all but about 12 of the smallest communities in the state have signed off on the West Virginia First MOU, which details not only how the funds will be spent, but also the permissible and non-permissible uses for that money.
“People are aware of the West Virginia First Foundation, but we’ve been able to fill that money up from a lot of the litigation that we’ve filed,” said Morrisey. “Right now, statewide, it’s going to be over a billion dollars that’ll be an aggregate available for the state. There will be an argument before the court sometime early next year about the legal fees, then after the legal fees are set aside, there will be a split of the money in three ways.”
Three percent of the funds will be held by the state in escrow to be used for expenses related to opioid litigation. Twenty-four and a half percent will be allocated directly to county, city and other government entities who have signed off on the WV First MOU. The remaining seventy-two and half percent will go to the West Virginia First Foundation, a non-profit that will have a governing board comprised of representatives of six regional councils and five members appointed by the governor. The Board will have the responsibility of recommending expenditures from the Foundation for projects around the state in cooperation with local governments.
“We think that the Foundation has credible potential, and it’s the first time ever in the state of West Virginia that we’re going to be funding a plan to help fight the opioid epidemic,” Morrisey said. “It took about six months for all the cities and counties to sign on, so we have to get to critical mass; there are 12 subdivisions out there who have decided not to sign on. The bottom line is that we have to get all that in place and then the separate process which is as we’re bringing in the settlement money, that has to get approved by the cities and counties as well.”
After discussing the MOU, Morrisey opened the floor for questions and comments from those gathered for the meeting. Questions about the use and regulation of marijuana in the state was on the mind of the law enforcement officers in the room. Currently, the use of medical marijuana is legal in West Virginia. However, there was concern over the ease of getting a medical marijuana card and how well that use is being tracked. While Morrisey said he is much more worried about the rise of Fentanyl use in West Virginia, he is clearly not impressed with the current medical marijuana law.
“The tricky part is the language was terribly written, by the way,” he said. “These guys slapped stuff together, they didn’t come to our office and ask for help, they didn’t get the benefit of prosecutor help; to be honest, it’s crap that made it’s way through. I’ve had to do legal opinions about the financial network, it can’t go through the regular banks. And there’s some federal laws that still put restrictions even on the medicinal side.”
Morrisey said medical marijuana users traveling to West Virginia from other states would most likely not be prosecuted, but that is not the case for those traveling from other states where recreational marijuana may be legal.
Reta Griffith, Director of the Pocahontas County Day Report Center, spoke about the lack of recovery housing for those who are recovering from drug addiction.
“There are no re-entry beds, no recovery beds, but we’ve got lots and lots of AirBnB beds,” she said. “I think if there was a tax incentive out there that if you own extra properties and there was a subsidy that supported this, say $10,000 a year for housing someone in one of these things, have that be an option for somebody’s second, third and fourth homes for folks; so they had a chance when they came out [of incarceration] to be somewhere else and start a new life.”
Morrisey said housing for recovering addicts is one of the permissible uses on the WV First Foundation funding and is considered part of the continuum of care for those caught up in addiction.
“But the key is going to be anything that gets money spent on by this Foundation, you’re going to need to have best practices and demonstrate it’s really going to work,” Morrisey said.
He cites many complaints against existing sober-living homes in the state as to the difficulty of overseeing and regulating this type of home. And as with opioid problems in general, he says there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. He feels that the Foundation and the MOU agreement are a very good start, but he knows that even this program will not address or fund everything related to the opioid problem in the state.
Morrisey said once the MOU agreement is approved by 96 percent of the communities in the state, the funding will be transferred to a qualified settlement administrator and must be approved by the courts. Once that’s done, the money can then be transferred to the counties and cities and to the Foundation. He said he believes that will happen in January or February of 2023.
You can find more information about the West Virginia First MOU Agreement at the WV Attorney General’s website, www.ago.wv.gov