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Point of View: Opioid settlement should be left to Legislature to distribute

Rep. Mark McBride
Rep. Mark McBride

I and other legislators have many questions about how the $270 million from Oklahoma’s recent settlement in its lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma will be spent. A large concern is whether the state attorney general has the authority to promise this money for specific programs at state universities or whether the appropriation of these funds should be left to the Legislature.

The attorney general has promised nearly $200 million will go to the Oklahoma State University Center for Wellness and Recovery in Tulsa with the aim of creating a national center on addiction modeled after the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. A portion of that money would then be directed to soon-to-be created foundation that would then direct a little more than $100 million to the OSU Health Sciences Center.

Why not just give the money directly to the Health Sciences Center if that’s the desire?

I would ask also why a portion of the settlement money was not promised to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Why could the two universities not collaborate on an addiction center if that’s the goal?

Attorneys will soak up $60 million in fees for handling the case. I realize attorneys need to be paid for their work, but this fee seems excessive at about 22 percent of the total settlement.

Then, only $17.5 million will make its way to counties and cities. Municipal and county governments such as the cities of Moore and Norman and Cleveland County, however, are the ones that are most directly affected by the fallout of the opioid crisis. They are the ones left to rehabilitate their residents and all others affected by this deadly crisis. This distribution seems way too low.

I have grave concerns about how the attorney general has promised this money will be spent. I and other legislators are asking if he really has the authority to make such promises. I have no problem with the attorney general. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an honest guy. But knowing there will be future settlements, it's important to set a precedent right now for how settlement money will be distributed in the future. Ensuring fairness to all affected is important.

McBride, R-Moore, represents District 53 in the Oklahoma House.