John Kasich, former Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate, is jumping into the fight over what could be hundreds of billions of dollars in settlement money over the current opioid lawsuit playing out in federal court.
Kasich and Gordon Gee, West Virginia University president and former Ohio State University president, are forming the group Citizens for Effective Opioid Treatment. It will lobby for that money on behalf of hospitals and health systems.
According to Kasich, hospitals can use those funds to advance treatment for opioid abuse and reduce fatal overdoses.
"Everybody's who's had to be on the frontlines and provide the services, all I want to make sure is that they can get the resources. We don't want the resources to be frittered away," says Kasich.
About 2,000 cities and counties have filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors for the role they played in the opioid epidemic that has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths over the years. More than 4,800 Ohioans died of accidental drug overdoses in 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available.
A plan is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio that could allow more than 30,000 municipalities to get in on the money. Dozens of states, including Ohio, have raised objection to that plan, saying the money should be distributed at a state level.
Kasich argues that hospitals must be in the mix, calling on policymakers to be mindful of the 1999 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement which paid out $126 billion to states. Tobacco-free organizations say the states didn’t invest enough of that money into tobacco cessation programs. In many instances states put the money into discretionary funds and used it to plug holes in their budgets.
"We don't want to wake up one day and figure out that with the settlement money only 50% of it went to people who were providing the services," says Kasich.
However, in the last of Kasich's eight years as governor, a report from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids ranked Ohio 30th in adequately funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
Critics, such as Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, say Kasich's new group is a dark money organization that focuses too much on one aspect of the opioid epidemic while ignoring others, such as law enforcement.
"For one group of people to claim that they are the point of the spear I think demeans an awful lot of good people that're doing an awful lot of good things," says Yost.