A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Lawmakers should use attorney general settlement funds to battle addiction, violence


By Andy Beshear
Special to KyForward

While state leaders may not always agree on how to solve an issue, we can all agree on the major issues staring us in the face.

Properly funding state employees’ pensions seems to be the issue mentioned the most. Measures passed in 2013 and 2016 by the General Assembly have focused resources on addressing that issue, and a special session is planned for later this year.

In the meantime, deaths are occurring every day from violence or addiction across the state. In cities like Louisville, we are seeing unprecedented murders and overdoses ravage the community.

My neighbor lost her older brother to a heroin overdose. Friends from across the state have lost their children to the same. I’m certainly not alone. Nearly everyone reading this has been either personally affected by addiction and overdose or can name someone who has.

Many Kentuckians have heard me talk about how this crisis is killing our family and friends. It is the main source of crime in our communities and it is preventing job and economic growth statewide.

While pension funding is important, I believe the addiction crisis is the challenge of our times. If we are going to stop overdoses and violence, and grow our economy for the generations to come, we must act now to stop drug dealers and to fund recovery.

In 2016, my office provided over $8 million to drug treatment facilities across the Commonwealth, including $500,000 to Recovery Kentucky in Henderson County.

We provided an additional $2 million to fund Rocket Docket programs, which quickly move addicts into treatment. Last year, the Rocket Docket program alone saved Kentucky taxpayers $12 million, and we are on track to save $16 million for the upcoming year.

To help take back our communities, my office has hosted community drug forums with local officials, treatment experts, state and local law enforcement and advocates. And on the law enforcement side we are working every day to identify and arrest dangerous fentanyl dealers, cut off illicit prescription pill pipelines and shut down rogue Suboxone clinics.

I am committed to doing whatever is in my power to stem the tide and save lives.

I’m calling on lawmakers and the governor to join me and put more “skin in the game” by not just talking about the issue, but funding real solutions.

In the last fiscal year, my office returned more than $7 million to the state’s General Fund from civil settlements with Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS), Volkswagen, Hyundai-Kia, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Western Union and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. I expect more settlements in the near future.

I’m calling on our legislative and executive leaders to use the millions of dollars my office has returned to help put an end to violence and addiction.

Let’s create more opportunities in our communities faced with heavy violence by funding education, job creation and mentoring programs. The leaders in those communities are ready to tell us what types of investments would help the most. Let’s listen and not lecture.

We should also use the funds to help law enforcement to counter the rapid rise of stronger, more powerful drugs like heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil.

Because drugs drive virtually all crime.

I will never forget asking a county attorney in 2014 what portion of his docket related to drugs. He told me if you look at the charges, perhaps 20 percent, but in reality, drugs cause nearly 100 percent of crime in his county.

In 2017, this is still the case for every county across Kentucky.

Drugs are also our single greatest challenge to job growth.

In Pulaski County, an automotive supplier lost more than 40 employees in one day after conducting a drug screening. The company attributes losing 10 percent of their employees a year to drug screenings, and 15 percent of their job applicants cannot pass the test. We are seeing this across the state.

So as lawmakers prepare to return to Frankfort to consider legislation, I would ask that they work with my office and the executive branch and use money my office has placed in the state coffers to fund solutions to stop violence and addiction.

We owe it to our families and our children. We owe it to our future.

Andy Beshear is Kentucky’s attorney general


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