FRANKFORT — When Mike Donta looked for help for his 24-year-old son, Michael, who was addicted to pain medication several years ago, the nearest available treatment bed to their Ashland home was hours away in Elizabethtown.
Donta managed to get his son into treatment but eventually, the younger Donta took his own life. But soon those in northeastern Kentucky won’t have to look so far away for help.
Mike Donta was on hand Monday as Attorney General Jack Conway, Gov. Steve Beshear, first lady Jane Beshear, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo announced the state will use $32 million from a drug settlement with pharmaceutical companies to combat drug addiction in Kentucky, including building a Recovery Kentucky Center in Ashland.
Kentucky Recovery is a joint program of the state Department of Local Government, Department of Corrections and the Kentucky House Corporation to provide housing and treatment for recovering addicts. It was begun during the administration of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Currently there are 10 centers in the state.
As Conway talked about the settlement, he recounted Donta’s story about having to travel so far for treatment and promised, “Mike, that won’t have to happen anymore.” He said it was clear the northeastern quarter of the state is underserved by treatment facilities.
Donta said Recovery Kentucky has had plans for an Ashland facility but had so far been unable to come up with the funds to build it. The settlement with the drug companies will change that.
Conway sued Merck and GlaxoSmithKline for failure to disclose health risks of drugs the companies marketed and settled the two cases for a total of $40 million. The settlement agreements, filed in Franklin Circuit Court, require $32 million of the money go toward drug abuse treatment.
In addition to the $500,000 to build the new Recovery Kentucky facility in Ashland, Independence House in Corbin and Chrysalis House in Lexington will share $1 million to offer substance abuse treatment to pregnant women.
The plan also provides $2.52 million to pay for 30 scholarships per year for those who cannot afford substance abuse treatment.
Beshear created by Executive Order a Substance Abuse Advisory Committee to oversee the settlement funding. Conway will chair the committee. Other members will be Jane Beshear; Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes; Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown; Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Director Van Ingram; Kentucky House Corporation CEO Kathryn Peters; and Dr. Allen Brenzel, director of the Department for Behavioral Health.
Over the next two years, the settlement will also provide $6 million to upgrade Kentucky’s electronic tracking system for prescription drugs (KASPER); $1.5 million to the University of Kentucky to develop best practices for juvenile substance abuse treatment; $250,000 to create a database to evaluate the success rate of juvenile treatment; and $1 million to the Kentucky Department of Education to intervene with at-risk children.
Jane Beshear said the money to expand and improve juvenile treatment is especially important because “the most important time to make an intervention is when it first occurs.”
Conway credited the first lady, who has worked with Recovery Kentucky since her husband became governor six years ago, with the idea of using some of the drug company settlement money for improving treatment options. Conway noted a University of Kentucky study indicated that the state has only one-tenth of the number of treatment beds it needs.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, did not attend the press conference and later told reporters he is concerned the dispensation of the settlement funds circumnavigates a Kentucky law requiring such funds go into the state’s General Fund.
Stivers said he had no objection to the way the money will be used but thinks KRS 48.005 requires the money be appropriated through the General Fund.
“My questions are about the process and the process only,” Stivers said.
The statute says the Attorney General may “recover (his) reasonable costs” from such litigation but then says: “All remaining funds shall be deposited in the general fund surplus account.”
Stivers said he had discussions with Gov. Beshear late last year about how the money might be used, but around Christmas time it occurred to him “this was an appropriation.” He said he then shared his concerns with Beshear and Conway.
Stivers said he doesn’t intend to challenge the use of the money in court or through legislation though he said others might.
Conway is confident the settlement terms will withstand a challenge.
“We are comfortable we’re on very sound legal ground,” he said. “In fact, we’re operating under a court order.”