Several states’ gubernatorial candidates are squabbling over who gets to brag about receiving the money, which is worth over $50 billion and will be given to state and municipal governments over a roughly two-decade period. Attorneys general who pursued the litigation leading to the settlements are among the contenders. They also want to remind everyone who really brought home the bacon.
According to University of Kentucky assistant professor of political science Stephen Voss, “raising money for your constituency almost always plays well.” A political debate “is a lot more compelling and unifying than taking a position on something like abortion,” where you always run the danger of offending someone.
The Republican candidate for governor of Kentucky, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, claims exclusive credit for the hundreds of millions of dollars his state is receiving to combat the opioid crisis. He said that his opponent, Democratic governor and former attorney general Andy Beshear, “filed a lot of lawsuits during his time [in] office, but in this race, there is only one person who has actually delivered dollars to fight the opioid epidemic, and it’s not him” in a post on X, the platform that was formerly known as Twitter.
But while serving as attorney general, Beshear brought nine lawsuits related to opioids, some of which resulted in the present payments. Beshear justified his position during a press conference in January: “I personally argued many of these cases in court, and that’s where these dollars are coming from.”
According to polls, Beshear is ahead of Cameron before the election on November 7.
Voters probably aren’t aware that the opioid settlements are countrywide agreements negotiated by a consortium of attorneys general and private attorneys, according to Christine Minhee, creator of OpioidSettlementTracker.com, who closely monitors how attorneys general manage the money nationwide. Therefore, voters of a certain politician may think “he’s the only hero in all of this” if he takes credit for the funds.
Additionally, candidates in other states are promoting their settlement experience. Securing opioid settlement monies is at the top of Democratic North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s 2024 gubernatorial campaign website’s “accomplishments” section. Republican contender for governor of West Virginia in 2024, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, has frequently bragging rights in press conferences, on social media, and on his campaign website. He claims to have secured the “highest per capita settlements in the nation.”
With the support of sheriffs and prosecutors, Republican attorney general Jeff Landry—who was just elected governor of Louisiana—ran on a program of toughness against crime. As the state’s attorney general, he oversaw discussions on how to distribute opioid settlement money, leading to the decision to give 80% of the money to parish governments and 20% to sheriff’s offices, the biggest direct donation to law enforcement in the country.
AG stands for “aspiring governor,” as the joke goes, and those in that position frequently utilize significant court matters to further their political careers. According to research, attorneys general who take part in multistate lawsuits, such as the ones that resulted in the tobacco and opioid settlements, are more likely to declare for governor or the Senate.
However, this infusion of politics raises questions about how settlement amounts are being spent, who is making the decisions, and if the funds will actually address the public health problem for some activists and those personally impacted by the opioid epidemic. Over 100,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year.
“I observe a great deal of press conferences and news articles in my state,” Democratic local politician Parrish-Wright stated. “However, what transpires doesn’t impact individuals,” particularly those who are severely impacted by addiction.
For instance, Parrish-Wright stated that Beshear’s statement, which rejoiced over the state’s decline in overdose fatalities, ignored the rising death toll among Black Kentuckians. Additionally, Parrish-Wright’s initial reaction upon hearing that $42 million in settlement funds would be used to study ibogaine, a psychedelic drug with potential for treating addiction, was that “most poor people can’t afford that,” given that obtaining it typically requires traveling outside of the nation. Cameron’s appointee to the state’s opioid abatement advisory commission made this announcement.
The announcement of Ibogaine sparked more debate. The $42 million allotment, which comes from the commission, which is based in Cameron’s office, would be the biggest investment made by the commission if the experimental medication is authorized. According to The Daily Beast, a Republican millionaire who is supporting Cameron’s bid for governor stands to make a significant profit from the creation of the medication.
When contacted for comment, Cameron’s campaign and office did not reply.
The creator of OpioidSettlementTracker.com, Minhee, expressed her fear that combining political influence with settlement monies may lead to inefficient investments across the country.
“It is essentially using money won through death to feed into more death if some of this money is going to be politicized to advance the careers of attorneys general who support the war on drugs,” the speaker declared.
Parrish-Wright of VOCAL-KY expressed concern that once votes are cast, some voters and candidates may lose sight of the importance of money.
“After the election cycle, we cannot allow it to fade,” she declared.