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State lawmaker seeks probe of Purdue Pharma settlement



FRANKFORT

Kentucky’s next legislative session will open with a proposal calling for an investigation into the state’s $24 million settlement with the makers of the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin, the Senate leader said Tuesday.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers told reporters that he plans to introduce the joint resolution — which carries the force of law — on the first day of the 2020 session in early January.

The state was “shortchanged” in its settlement with Purdue Pharma, Stivers said. The measure will request hiring a special counsel to examine lingering questions about the settlement, he said. The proposal would need approval from both chambers of the GOPled legislature.

“We need a special counsel to determine what things went on … during this period of time that created a settlement that in comparison is pennies-on-the-dollar,” Stivers said.

Former Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, settled the case against Purdue Pharma at the end of 2015, just a few days before he left office. Kentucky sued Purdue Pharma in 2007, and the case languished in the courts for years before the settlement.

A call to Conway at his law office was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Purdue Pharma is pursuing settlement of more than 2,600 lawsuits filed against it in a reckoning over the opioid crisis. Its settlement offer could be worth up to $12 billion over time.

Kentucky lawmakers would set the budget and parameters for the investigation if the resolution clears the legislature. Stivers said he would like to see the investigation completed within six to eight months of the resolution being passed, saying there are potential statute of limitations issues.

Kentucky’s settlement has filtered into the state’s hotly contested gubernatorial campaign.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s reeelection campaign has tried to make it an issue against his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear.

Beshear had no involvement in settling the Purdue Pharma case.

Stivers’ call for an investigation into the settlement comes six weeks before the election.

The senator said he had not talked with Bevin or his staff about the issue, and said has raised concerns before about the settlement. The timing of his press conference also stemmed from recent developments in other states suing Purdue Pharma, Stivers said.

But Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers said the timing was a “shameless political stunt.”

“Andy Beshear has been the most aggressive attorney general in the country when it comes to taking on the big pharmaceutical companies that ravaged our communities,” Hyers said.

Beshear has filed multiple lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors as a result of the opioid epidemic, which has hit Kentucky hard.

Another element of Kentucky’s settlement with Purdue Pharma has led to Republican criticism of Beshear.

As part of its contract with the state, a Louisville-based law firm was owed a portion of the state’s settlement, plus expenses. But the contract had been allowed to expire for months prior to the settlement. Beshear, who replaced Conway as attorney general, awarded the firm a new contract to correct the mistake. Conway then joined that firm.

Bevin has criticized the contract, accusing Beshear and Conway of colluding to award his new firm a multi-million-dollar payout on his way out of office. Beshear has said he was just honoring a valid contract the state had with a private business, noting both the attorney general’s office and the law firm had continued to operate as if the contract were in place even though it had expired.

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