Reported $12 billion settlement by Purdue Pharma prompts Bevin to try to associate Beshear with state’s much smaller settlement

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin spoke to Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, as Democratic Secretary of State Alison Grimes seemed to react, before Bevin addressed the state legislature. (Photo by Michael Reaves, Cincinnati Enquirer)

Reports that Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma will pay $12 billion to settle many other states’ claims of damages from the opioid epidemic has brought fresh attention to Kentucky’s settlement for 2 percent of that amount in 2015.

The $24 million deal was struck by Democrat Jack Conway, then the state’s attorney general, who had just lost the November 2015 governor’s election to Republican Matt Bevin. (The suit had been filed in 2007 by Democrat Greg Stumbo, who said it could result in a settlement of $1 billion.)

Meanwhile, Democrat Andy Beshear had been elected attorney general, and after taking office in January 2016 he approved a retroactive $4 million contract for work on the case by a Louisville firm that later made Conway a partner.

While he was a candidate, Beshear was at partner at another law firm, which represented Purdue Pharma in the case. He has said he had no direct involvement in it, but now he is running for governor against Bevin, who went after him in an official statement issued by his office Sept. 11, soon after reports of the possible $12 billion settlement.

“It’s a tragic day for the thousands of Kentucky families who have suffered heart-wrenching pain from the scourge of the opioid epidemic,” Bevin said. “I am deeply troubled that Kentucky is forced to stand helplessly by, as more than 20 states and nearly 2,300 local governments across the country receive a historic settlement.”

Bevin alleged that Conway and Beshear’s law firm “struck a corrupt deal, ensuring that Purdue would be let off the hook by paying only $24 million to Kentucky, even though our state was one of the first and hardest hit by opioids.” Noting the retroactive contract, he said, “This crooked deal is one of the biggest frauds ever committed on Kentuckians.”

Beshear campaign spokesman Sam Newton replied, “Andy Beshear has been the most aggressive attorney general in the country when it comes to taking on the big drug companies that poisoned our communities and killed our neighbors.” He added that was “shameful” for Bevin to use his office make “a patently false political smear about something that happened before Andy ever took office.”

As attorney general, Beshear has filed nine lawsuits against drug companies for their roles in the epidemic. “Beshear famously walked out of a committee hearing in October 2017 after being grilled by legislators about whether he had anything to do with the $24 million settlement, Phillip Bailey writes for the Louisville Courier Journal.

Earlier that year, Beshear told reporters, “I wasn’t a named counsel on that, and I don’t recall doing any work on it. I was there a long time; I don’t want to suggest that no one asked me a question about what General Conway was like or not like, but I was not an active participant in that case.”

Bailey notes, “Kentucky’s rate of opioid-involved deaths was 27.9 per 100,000 people, which was almost twice the national average, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.”